HR Minute: Workplace Violence & Safety Considerations

By Claudia St. John

workplace_violence_formAccording to the National Safety Council (NSC), millions of workers report being victims of workplace violence in their lifetime. This can range from minor physical confrontations to serious injuries or even death. Unfortunately, workplace homicide rates are on the rise. Events such as the shooting at Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, IL on February 16, have shown us that virtually all companies can have exposure to some form of this danger.

While workers in certain industries such as healthcare, law enforcement, education, and taxi services have a higher chance of being a victim of workplace homicide, companies should also consider safety precautions for employees in potentially compromising positions.

Receptionists: Receptionists are the first people anyone walking into your building meets. They are often exposed to the general public in order to greet people, answer questions, direct visitors to the right place, sign for packages, etc. They interact with friends, family, applicants, vendors, and strangers, oftentimes not knowing the reason that person is there. The nature of their job is to serve as a screener or gatekeeper, sometimes without protections themselves.

Cashiers, couriers, or anyone handling money: Anyone who deals with or carries (or may appear to carry) money may catch the attention of thieves. Whether serving as a cashier in an easily-accessible establishment or bringing deposits to the bank, these employees could become targets of violence.

Sales, customer service representatives, and other in-the-field employees: Employees who operate in the field are on their own, usually with no tracking or set schedule. They can encounter issues while traveling or dealing with unknown people without the knowledge and/or protections of the office.

Human Resources: The nature of the job is to deal with employees, including during stressful or tense times. Human resources professionals are involved in assisting employees dealing with medical or psychological issues, disciplining or terminating under-performing workers, and handling disgruntled employees. Human resources also must lay off employees, leaving them in a desperate situation due to no fault of their own.

Employers should take a careful look at all positions, determine potential exposure, and explore possible safety precautions they can take based on factors such as company size, location, and budget. A workplace violence and safety audit, done periodically, can help identify potential preventable exposure. If you are unsure of how to conduct such an audit, your local police may be helpful in assessing your workplace and potential vulnerabilities and remedies. As in most situations, a little planning and early prevention may save a lot of trouble and pain in the future.

Claudia St. John is President of Affinity HR Group, Inc., a national human resources consulting firm serving hundreds of clients nationwide. With more than 20 years of experience in human resources, employee engagement, and organizational development, she is an author and a frequent public speaker who contributes regularly to publications on the topic of human resources.

Image courtesy of Syndeo