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Workplace violence is not a new threat, but one that has been on the rise and continues to dominate national headlines, but what we see from the media is just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that workplace violence takes place on a daily basis across the country. Aggression, frustration, and the general decline of individuals' mental health since the start of the global pandemic, fundamentally changed the nature of work in the last few years. The shift in working hybrid, remote, or returning to the office, is something that both employees and customers are grappling with.

Nationally recognized security expert in workplace violence prevention, Hector Alvarez, President of Alvarez Associates, joins us as he breaks down the ins and outs of workplace violence along with how to improve safety at your facility.

In This Episode:

➡️ What is workplace violence

➡️ How the pandemic impacted individuals in the workplace

➡️ Workplace violence prevention - Identifying red flags and how to take action

 

What Is Workplace Violence?

There are varying definitions of workplace violence, but they all encompass similar principles including any form of harassment, intimidation, or physical violence that occurs in a work environment or any place where business is being conducted.

I.e. Applies to employees and outsiders taking a sales tour of a manufacturing plant.

Workplace violence can come in many forms such as threats, intimidation, threats as a result of seeking revenge as a sort of tit-for-tat situation. This spectrum of violence stems from customers, coworkers, and even personal relationships you may find spilling into the workplace.

The Pandemic's Impact On Individuals In The Workplace

The start of the pandemic triggered a series of unfortunate events such as isolation and deaths, there is political division, and now with recession fears companies are implementing hiring freezes, and laying off personnel across the country. In order to lessen the blow, some states enforced a hold on evictions and provided rental assistance and financial programs. These resources have since been lifted leaving employees vulnerable at a time when hard to make ends meet as it is. These stressors have since been projected in the workplace as incidents of intolerance or frustration from both employees and customers acting out on a frequent basis.

Across the globe, we are seeing a rise in anxiety, depression, and substance use disorders. There are some people who reported they are content working from home, while others who have remained on the frontlines through the pandemic reported they noticed customers and coworkers become increasingly more abrasive and aggressive than in years past.

Reduce Risks & Improve Plant Safety 

When it comes to reducing risk and improving plant safety there are a few steps to take starting with training managers and supervisors on how to identify potential signs of an individual that could become a problem. The next step would be to assess the level of security. Based on Hector's personal experience working with manufacturing facilities he has noticed doors are left wide open, unassigned parking, and limited access control. Paying attention to the basics of security such as lighting, landscaping, and cleanliness help to create a visually friendly environment where it's easy to spot if something has gone awry. Another thing to take action on is fixing broken items in the facility as you notice them in order to not leave anything outstanding, which is one lesson a recent Maryland manufacturing plant learned after leaving broken door locks unattended to, allowing access to an active shooter. Other things that should be top of mind are securing equipment that in fact should be and locking key access points.

A great resource to have in your toolbox is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). This architectural concept educates companies on how to set up a facility that protects them, their operations, and their customers, which makes companies less of a target to be taken advantage of. Each manufacturing facility is different from the other in terms of layout and systems set in place which is why it is important to familiarize yourself with how a typical day of operations looks to make it easier to detect when something out of the norm is going on.

I.e. - If you have a large sign indicating where the office is, yet you see someone wandering around, this may be a red flag.

Understanding who you interact with is another thing to keep in mind - is it with the public, internal customers, or both? And from there, train your employees to distinguish a warning sign from an indicator.

Hector breaks it down by saying, "You could compare it to the low tire pressure warning sign on your dashboard, it's important to be aware that you should probably pay attention to it before something goes wrong, but if you keep driving down the road, and you hear a pop, you feel your car pull to left, that's an indicator that you immediately need to take action", and when it comes to identifying signs in people, it is a similar thought process. 

Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management

The behavioral threat assessment and management (BTAM) structure is a fact-based, systematic process designed to identify, assess, and manage potentially dangerous or violent situations. Questions to ask yourself:

What are you looking for?

  • People dealing with emotional issues or personal life struggles
  • Those expressing frustrations
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Justice-seeking characteristics - Someone who feels they were wronged

How do you know if you should tell someone, and who do you tell?

Based on Hector's advice he suggests that if you are questioning whether or not you should tell someone about an event you witnessed, then there is obviously something triggering you to think that, which is a sign you need to come forward and share it with HR, legal, supervisor, or manager immediately.

How do you respond to the situation?

Each person deals with trauma differently which is broken down into three parts - mental, emotional, and physical. The first priority is to take care of your employees by providing them the resources to recover from the traumatic experience. The next steps focus on operational considerations such as what do you tell your suppliers, and what do you tell your customers? The recovery process is all based on having a business resumption strategy and a business continuity plan in place.

Business Resumption Strategy - Addresses the restoration of your business after an emergency. Different from a continuity plan, it does not contain procedures used during an emergency, but rather preventative once the dust settles.

Business Continuity - An organization's ability to maintain essential functions during and after a disaster has occurred.

Although the police may be the first to respond, they won't be sticking around for the effects of the aftermath, and you may have to bring in a professional that is specially trained for helping individuals cope with similar traumatic situations. This is a positive way to unite everyone together as a team and let each other know they are not alone.

How To Stay Prepared

There's often a disconnect between what occurs on the plant floor, and what c-suite members are seeing and hearing in the office. By creating an environment of psychological safety and encouraging open communication, employees will be more likely to come forward with concerns. Intervening is another approach to sending a strong message that says your organization has a low tolerance for inappropriate behavior. Another major key component is to have a business continuity plan in place, test it out, make sure it's updated, and don't wait until there is an emergency to finally take action.

References

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