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Workplace Safety

March is National Workplace Safety Month.  Violence in the workplace has become a major safety issue and affects society as a whole.  Like all violent crimes, workplace violence creates ripple effects beyond what is done to a particular victim.  It damages trust, community, and the sense of security every worker has a right to feel while on the job.  Everyone loses when a violent act takes place and everyone must make efforts to stop violence from happening.  Stopping workplace violence depends on the actions of all of us. 

Employers have an obligation to promote a work environment free from threats and violence.  In addition, they can face economic losses as the result of violence in the form of lost work time, damaged employee morale and productivity, increased workers’ compensation payments, and possible lawsuits.  Employers play an important role in violence prevention which can include:

·         Adopting a workplace violence policy and prevention program and communicating those to employees.

·         Providing regular training in preventive measures for all employees.

·         Supporting, not punishing, victims of workplace or domestic violence.

·         Adopting and practicing fair and consistent disciplinary procedures.

·         Fostering a climate of trust and respect among workers and management.

·         Seeking advice and assistance from outside resources, including threat-assessment mental health professionals, social service agencies, and law enforcement.

Employees have the right to expect a work environment that promotes safety from violence, threats, and harassment. We can actively contribute by doing the following:

·         Accept and adhere to an employer’s preventive policies and practices.

·         Become aware of and report violent or threatening behavior by coworkers to police and management.

Law enforcement agencies over the last several years have changed how they respond to workplace violence.  Those changes have placed greater emphasis on prevention and responding to threats and minor incidents, rather than the traditional view of waiting until a crime has occurred.   Rice County has adopted a proactive approach, utilizing community policing concepts, which can be applied to workplace situations as well.  Our changes in workplace security were motivated by a shooting in Cook County where an armed man shot several people in the courthouse.   Preventing workplace violence now is viewed as a responsibility of everyone working for Rice County by watching what is happening around us and reacting more vigilantly in reporting concerns.

As the attention to the issue has grown, occupational safety specialists have agreed that responding to workplace violence requires attention to more than just an actual physical attack.  Homicide and other physical assaults are on a continuum which includes domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment, intimidation, and other conduct creating anxiety, fear, and a climate of distrust in the workplace.  All are part of the workplace violence problem.  Prevention programs must consider violence in all forms to be effective.  The FBI defines 4 categories of violence:

TYPE 1: Violent acts by persons who have no connection with the workplace.

TYPE 2: Violence directed at employees by those whom an organization provides services.

TYPE 3: Violence against employees by a present or former employee.

TYPE 4: Violence committed in the workplace by someone who does not work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—an abusive spouse or partner.

Preventing each of these types of workplace violence takes proactive efforts by employers, employees, and those who interact with people in the workplace.   Planning for every contingency may not be practical, but having a policy for dealing with each of these types of workplace violence can improve workplace safety.  Be alert to your surroundings and if you feel uncomfortable tell someone or call for help.  We all need to be part of workplace safety.  

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