By Larry Spicer CHPA, Director of Training and Quality Assurance, Loss Prevention Security Services at Aurora Health Care
Regardless of size, location or type of industry, workplaces are increasingly vulnerable to violence. Recent horrific incidents of violence at schools and workplaces underscore this unthinkable new reality. The impact of workplace violence ranges from psychological issues to physical injury, or even death.
orkplace violence not only affects employees, but also clients, customers and visitors. HR is in a unique position to become an organization’s first line of defense in preventing workplace violence. How? By providing proper training and education to its’ workforce.
Recognize signs of potential violence
Human Resource leaders, supervisors, managers and coworkers, all need to recognize the behavioral signals of potential workplace violence. Paying attention to key behavioral warning signs can offer useful insights into someone’s potential for violence. The Crisis Prevention Institute offers these behavioral signals to watch for:
• Significant changes in someone’s normal behavior or routines
• Sudden changes in expression, physical activity, or posture
• Dramatic increase or change in voice volume or tone
• Expressions that communicate extreme anger or distress
• Communications of despair and hopelessness
• Body posture that is intimidating or threatening
• Verbal threats1
These signals are not always predictive of violent actions, so conducting a thorough internal threat assessment can shed more light on the severity of the potential threat.
Assess threats objectively
At Aurora Health Care, we use caution when analyzing threat assessments. We’ve learned that people who commit acts of violence don’t necessarily match pre-established profiles or stereotypes. We analyze each threat objectively and respond accordingly, depending on the circumstances. We are seeking to understand more about the person’s thinking, motivation and behavior. These factors are often good indicators of someone’s likelihood to become violent.
Policies and procedures do matter
Having organizational policies and procedures that clearly outline expectations for employee behavior is crucial for preventing workplace violence. Employees should understand how to report and respond to threats of violence. Having well documented policies and procedures in place demonstrates that an organization takes the subject of workplace violence seriously. Organizations need to clearly communicate their expectations to their entire workforce.
Reduce workplace violence through training
Statistics show that healthcare workplace violence impacts employee morale and retention, patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. As a result, we continuously seek proven approaches to reducing the likelihood of violence in our workplaces.
As the largest private employer in Wisconsin, Aurora employs more than 32,000 caregivers (employees). This includes nurses, physicians, security staff, behavioral health professionals and at-home caregivers who (based on statistical data) are at higher risk for workplace violence.
Training provides the information and skills caregivers need to fulfill their role in preventing and responding to threats quickly and safely. To facilitate our caregiver training, Aurora partners with an external vendor with proven expertise in the area of human conflict. We’ve engaged this training partner to instruct our caregivers in managing conflict and responding appropriately to threatening situations.
The type of training each caregiver receives is based upon the person’s work environment. For example, emergency department or behavioral health caregivers receive more extensive training than administrative staff having little or no patient contact. This annual training may be offered through e-learning, simulations, presentations or other educational formats.
Adopt a proactive approach
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends that organizations adopt a proactive approach to workplace violence by:
• Conducting effective employee screenings and background checks
• Creating an internal system for reporting signs of potentially violent behavior
• Making counseling services available to affected employees (At Aurora, caregivers are referred to Aurora EAP to receive assistance with any workplace or behavioral health issue)
• Developing a comprehensive Emergency Action Plan, including policies and procedures for dealing with an active shooter situation2
Workplace violence can happen almost anywhere. Employers have a responsibility to protect their employees from workplace violence by offering proper training, education and by cultivating a culture of respect. Employees at all levels should learn to recognize when someone’s behavior is out of the norm and know how to report threats and concerns. By taking these steps, incidents of workplace violence can diminish. It will, however, require an organization-wide commitment to create and maintain a safe workplace — as well as implementing an effective plan of action.
Proactive Strategies for Promoting a Safe and Respectful Workplace. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2018, from crisisprevention.com
How to Respond to an Active Shooter. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2018, from https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/active_shooter_booklet.pdf
Larry Spicer, CHPA, serves as Aurora’s Director of Training and Quality Assurance, Loss Prevention Security Services