Avoiding Violent Outcomes: Companies Can Reduce the Risk of Workplace Violence by Training Staff to Recognize Warning Signs and Having Procedures for Prevention and Response

Article excerpt

WHEN A NEW PLANT MANAGER began working at a small Midwestern manufacturing company, he was focused on productivity and sales, not on workplace violence training. However, all that changed several months into the job. A supervisor had decided to fire a plant employee.

The supervisor held the termination conference in the staff break-room during a shift change. Embarrassed and angry, the employee physically assaulted the supervisor and the human resources representative.

While investigating the incident, the manager learned that the company had no formal workplace-violence training program. The manager immediately contacted a consultant to help the company develop one. Now, the company requires all managers and supervisors to attend workplace violence-prevention training classes. Management also developed a written policy to govern the company's response to a workplace violence incident.

The emotional nature of a workplace violence incident can take a major toll on employees; it can also interrupt business operations and have a long-term negative impact on a company's competitiveness in the marketplace. It makes good business sense for all companies to implement a workplace violence-prevention training program.

Violence-prevention awareness should be an integral part of new employee orientation, with refresher classes provided on an annual basis to all employees of the company. However, concentrated training is advised for supervisors, who are the eyes and ears of every organization. A training program should include causes of workplace violence, behaviors to watch for, prevention techniques, security procedures, and employee assistance programs.

Causes

Too often supervisors are unaware of workplace violence issues. Discussing some basic facts about frequency and the factors known to lead to violence can help. The trainer should make sure that all information is current. (@ They can find the latest information on the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration's Web site.)

Behaviors

Understanding the warning signs that precede workplace violence is the key to prevention. The instructor should point out some key behaviors to look for, including outbursts of anger or rage without provocation, an increase in unsolicited comments about firearms or other dangerous weapons and violent crimes, talk of previous incidents of violence, an escalation of domestic problems into the workplace, and paranoid behavior.

The training should indicate that once these behaviors are manifest, supervisors should immediately notify a manager. Supervisors should get additional training in how to prevent and defuse volatile situations.

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Prevention

While there are many ways of preventing or defusing volatile situations, two stand out: mediation and stress management. Sessions on these two topics can include some traditional classroom training, but role playing is critical to help students understand how to deal with real-life situations.

Conflict management. When conflicts arise, it's possible that they can be resolved before they escalate. All supervisors should, therefore, be trained in conflict management. For example, managers should get instruction in where to stand when trying to defuse an argument between employees, how to set up a room for employee counseling or termination, and how to avoid conflict in the first place.

Consider the following case. Bill, a supervisor at a Fortune 500 company was having trouble with John, a disruptive employee who was described as the plant bully. John exhibited all the warning signs of workplace violence. He had a quick temper and was verbally abusive to coworkers. John was also known to take his aggression out on the plant's equipment.

Bill had gone through the mandated disciplinary procedures with John without success, and he was now forced to terminate John's employment. …