Seven Core Elements of Any Roadmap to Prevent Workplace Violence

Deb Kirby

Share this post

Sep 22, 2022

Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy for many organizations to focus on violence prevention. That’s certainly true for workplace violence. For over 15 years, our threat and violence risk management team has been advising clients in this area. Many of them reach out to us after uncovering a threat of physical harm to employees, encountering an act of workplace violence, or learning that an attack has occurred at another organization in their industry or neighborhood.

While we readily serve our clients' immediate needs, we always underscore prevention as the best option to protect people, places and reputations. The impetus for our engagement is often reactive. Either fear or a specific experience drives leaders to focus on intervention.

What many employers still don’t fully appreciate is that demonstrating due care in safeguarding the workplace is actually a legal requirement. The General Duty Clause from the OSHA Act of 1970 requires that, in addition to compliance with hazard-specific standards, all employers must provide a work environment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm." This can include the approach to workplace violence and its prevention.

The Costs of Failing to Address “Behaviors of Concern”

Violence at work can have enormous consequences for the organization. We regularly encounter the fallout of workplace violence in our work – not only in terms of people and injury but also in other less visible ways, including litigation expenses and insurance losses, public relations outlays, and negative impacts to reputation. Long term consequences include increased turnover, lost productivity, absenteeism, higher healthcare costs and low morale.

The Benefits of Prioritizing Employee Safety

A well-designed workplace violence prevention program helps to avert crisis, increase safety, reduce costs and provide assurances to your workforce. Benefits include faster identification of red flags, earlier opportunities to intervene, an in-house ability to perform basic threat assessments, and greater cross-functional collaboration and information sharing.

When employees feel safe at work, the business doesn’t just face a far lower risk of lawsuits and settlements. It also benefits from uninterrupted business operations and stronger enterprise risk management. Other ancillary benefits include stronger employee welfare and support and improved security outcomes related to non-violent transgressions like theft, pilferage, and defacement or damage to facilities and equipment.

More Companies Are Becoming Proactive

The tide is turning. More and more companies – particularly large employers – are recognizing that workplace violence prevention should be a foundational component of any corporate security program. As this focus continues to grow, companies need to learn how to evaluate their overall environment and build the right violence prevention program for their needs.

Seven Essential Steps to Establishing Workplace Violence Prevention Programs

When we sit down with clients, we recommend they use the following roadmap to help them develop and implement an effective program.

  1. Conduct a needs assessment. Evaluate strengths, resources, and processes in HR, Security,
    Legal, Compliance, and other departments regarding overall workplace violence knowledge and ability to intervene.
  2. Survey the workforce. Design and distribute an independent, anonymous employee survey to gather insight into the general work environment and employees’ experiences, training, awareness and feelings about the potential for incidents of workplace violence.
  3. Conduct a physical and technical security assessment. Examine your physical security infrastructure, particularly perimeter and parking security, locks, gates and keys, visitor management, lighting, backup emergency power, and mail and delivery safeguards. Also evaluate your technical security systems, such as intrusion detection, CCTV, access control, fire and life safety, and panic alarms. Finally, assess the use of security guards, vaults, safes, and bullet-proof glass in at-risk areas, such as main lobbies and executive suites.
  4. Develop policies and a formal workplace violence prevention program. Validate, improve or establish clear, actionable guidance on areas ranging from core operational policies and practices to compliance, privacy, reporting issues and incident tracking.
  5. Build and train a threat assessment team (TAT). Ensure your new threat assessment team reflects the diverse strengths of personnel, with domain knowledge, skills and experience in HR, security, legal, clinical psychology and EAP policies.
  6. Emphasize ongoing training and awareness. Design and develop curricula supporting ongoing training and awareness at every level of the organization. Customize this content for at least three separate audiences: general employees, managers and supervisors, and threat assessment team members. Also be sure to adapt your delivery method, channel and frequency based on these different stakeholder groups. Ensure executive visibility on maintaining safety.
  7. Establish a capacity to quickly engage advanced support. Don’t expect to do all of this entirely in-house. Be prepared in advance to engage outside support when you need specialized professional insights and guidance from threat management experts, licensed clinical psychologists and investigators experienced in these matters.

Each of these steps is important, though they typically work best in sequence. If you pursue these systematically, you will gain increasing maturity and competence in your ability to deploy critical, multi-disciplinary analysis of investigative findings and behavioral indicators.

Don’t wait for a crisis to take action. We can help you establish a workplace violence prevention program that fosters a safe and secure working environment, mitigates the risks of an incident, and facilitates the achievement of business and mission objectives. Learn more.

Headshot of Debra K. Kirby

About the author

Debra K. Kirby
Debra brings command experience in patrol operations, investigations, organized crime, law enforcement training, policy development, data-led policing and internal affairs with an acute focus on integrity systems, covert operations and the need for strong accountability practices in support of operational priorities.