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Monday, 19 January 2015 06:00

Think You’re Safe from Workplace Violence? Think Again

Written by  Vicki Thomas

WorkplaceWorkplace violence is a very hot topic right now. Whether you’re thinking of the recent shootings at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, France, the shootings of two Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers in Edmonton, Alberta, the attacks against nurses and other healthcare workers that are making the news in Canada and the United States, or the poor treatment of workers in many factories and other work environments through-out the world - workplace violence most definitely deserves your attention.

So many of us believe that we’re immune to workplace violence, but this is primarily due to the fact that we just don’t understand what workplace violence really is. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence is defined as:

Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths.

Does this definition of workplace violence make you pause and think about your workplace? The OSHA goes on to provide further information about workplace violence and whom it considers to be at highest-risk of this violence:

…Among them are workers who exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods, or services; or work alone or in small groups, during late night or early morning hours, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public. This group includes health-care and social service workers such as visiting nurses, psychiatric evaluators, and probation officers; community workers such as gas and water utility employees, phone and cable TV installers, and letter carriers; retail workers; and taxi drivers.

So what do you do if you’re the manager of or an owner of a company that has such employees? If you do have a business continuity plan, did your business impact analysis include threats to your team?

So many of us forget that our employees need to know that they are safe and protected in their workplace. When employees know they are safe, their job security and commitment to the company or organization increases.

In early 2015, a nurse working at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Ontario was attacked, beaten and critically injured by a patient:

The alleged incident occurred at noon when the nurse was caring for a patient in a medium-security unit at the site, the ONA says. The patient then “pushed her down and punched her in the head several times” and the nurse was taken to hospital.

Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the ONA, said this incident is an example of an escalating issue surrounding violence at Ontario mental-health facilities over the past year. She said there were 453 incidents of assault or abuse of nurses at CAMH in 2014. (ONA calls for better protection after nurse allegedly beaten at CAMH, globeandmail.com)

This attack and many others against nurses and others in the healthcare field, are highlighting the lack of protection mechanisms in place to protect these employees. In the above case, Haslam-Stroud emphasized:

She said a number of hazards, such as lack of appropriate staffing, training and risk assessment on patients, must be addressed.

This all comes back to BC/DR…. Your BC/DR plan needs to go beyond buildings and remote worksites - it needs to include the real and tangible safety of your employees.

In the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo Paris office, the gunmen were able to simply walk into the office with their weapons and start shooting. Panic ensued and more people were killed, leaving a total of 17 people dead. The city of Paris was sent into immediate chaos and a manhunt for the shooters began.

So what do you do if you work at a media organization, health care facility, school, place of worship, train station/bus station/airport, or utility company? Do you have a plan in place to really protect your workers? A plan that goes beyond your company’s physical assets and remembers that the most valuable assets your company or organization has are your people.

If you’re a nurse, do you want to work at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - a place where a nurse was attacked by a patient? How do you feel about being a police officer? What about working in an industry, such as media, that results in your name and place of work being available to anyone who can do an Internet search?

Workplace violence isn’t just a hot topic right now - it’s a topic that needs to be addressed and faced head on. Workplace violence can take many forms and can impact any of us. Think of yourself and how you like to feel when you’re at work. Now think of your colleagues and employees - do they feel safe? This just might be the time to ask them…

To read more about workplace violence: