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Workplace violence prevention: 8 office safety tips


Have you thought about your company’s workplace violence prevention policy lately?

If not, maybe you should ask yourself, “How safe is my office, really?”

From schools to office buildings and just about everything in between, these days no place seems safe from the risk of active shooters and other criminal activity. Whether you like it or not, this means you need to be prepared.

Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

While mass shootings and homicides make big news, it may surprise you to learn that the most frequent types of workplace violence are simple assault (fisticuffs) and armed robbery.

Once you’ve identified potential security liabilities, you can take steps to address those issues. If you’re starting from scratch when it comes to  workplace violence prevention, here are eight tips to help you reduce risk to your team and your building.

Conduct a security assessment

How can you, the business owner or leader, keep your employees and your assets safe?

Every business has slightly different needs regarding security, so it’s best to begin with a thorough assessment of your security vulnerabilities. A threat assessment lets you identify your company’s potential weaknesses.

Questions to ask yourself include:

  • What’s your neighborhood like? Do you rent space in a downtown office building with security guards provided, or are you in a warehouse in a rough industrial district?
  • Do the other businesses around leave you more vulnerable? Are you located next door to a bank that could be robbed? Is there a government office on the floor above you?
  • Do strangers cut through your parking lot for convenience?
  • Is your business open to the public?
  • Do your employees handle cash? Do these workers also deal with the public?
  • Does your business rely on delivery drivers? Do they drive company vehicles? What sort of security systems exist on those vehicles?
  • Are all your windows and doors in good working order?
  • Do all employees wear badges?
  • How do employees access the building? With electronic keys or metal keys?
  • How often are security codes changed?

You should also ask your employees if they ever feel unsafe or have suggestions for improvements.

Still not sure where to start? OSHA offers many free workplace violence prevention resources for businesses in general. It also provides specific advice for those types of companies most likely to experience violence, such as late-night retail establishments, healthcare businesses and those with delivery drivers.

Make sure your building and parking lots are well lit

Often, attackers will use dark or poorly lit areas in and around your building to hide and wait for an opportunity to strike. Outside, remember that street lights may not provide enough illumination, so you may have to add exterior lights.

If your employees enter and leave your building before daylight or after dark, be sure they have a well-lit path to and from the building, especially around doorways and in the parking lot. When possible, encourage employees to walk in pairs after dark – or consider hiring a service to walk employees to their cars if necessary.

Install security cameras and make them visible

While a high-tech security system that has all the bells and alarms is preferred, it may not be in your budget. But, this doesn’t mean you can’t create a convincing image that your business is well protected.

Make your security cameras especially visible in your most likely danger zones, including over doors, in parking lots, at the reception area, anywhere money is handled or stored, and in IT server rooms.

When criminals see video surveillance, they can’t necessarily tell whether cameras are on, and it might be enough to discourage them from targeting your business.

Keep your storefront and windows clean and clear

A well-kept storefront not only helps you set an attractive stage for customers, it also discourages criminals. To the criminal mind, if you’re willing to invest time and money into making your building look good, you’ve probably spent some time and money protecting it as well.

As with security cameras, appearances alone are sometimes enough to convince an offender to find an easier target. To that end, resist the urge to cover your windows with advertisements, signs, posters or decorations. Also avoid stacking boxes, old furniture and other clutter in front of windows.

When you keep your windows clean and clear, it’s easier to view things happening outside. This allows your workers to spot threats before they get into your building.

Set strict guidelines for controlling cash

If your business is responsible for handling large amounts of cash, you and your employees need to take special precautions, particularly if you’re also dealing with the public. That’s because, statistically, these are especially vulnerable jobs.

One way to deter criminals is to post signs that say cashiers have a limited amount of cash in their registers and your safes can’t be opened by employees. If they don’t think there is going to be a huge payout, a robber may be less likely to go after your business.

And, if you’re regularly transporting cash, such as bank deposits, don’t follow a set schedule. This makes it more difficult for thieves to study your routine and plan an attack.

Encourage employees to report vulnerabilities

Despite your best efforts to provide a safe office environment, you can’t be everywhere or know everything. So, it’s vital you encourage employees to report their safety concerns. Your team should be comfortable telling you about:

  • Lights that need to be replaced
  • Unsecured machines or rooms containing valuable equipment
  • Domestic issues that have the potential to spill into the workplace
  • Suspicious behavior, workplace bullying or significant personality changes of other employees or customers

It’s also important that you act on any safety concerns brought to your attention. Nothing kills employee cooperation faster than feeling ignored.

Implement a no-tolerance policy and stick to it

Often, violent employees or customers aren’t first-time offenders. Many times, they will display warning signs or act out on a smaller scale first. Don’t let these incidents go unnoticed – and don’t tolerate bullying or let employee feuds simmer.

For example, if employees start acting suspiciously or you notice a significant change in behaviors, meet with them and address your concerns immediately. If, at any point, anyone (employee or non-employee) acts aggressive or threatening, call the police right away.

Train your employees to recognize potential danger

Just as you regularly train employees to recognize phishing attacks through unsolicited emails, you should train them in workplace safety. Remind them about proper procedures for handling suspicious packages, upset customers and unauthorized personnel in secure work areas.

As part of manager training, you should also train your business’s leaders to recognize and stop behaviors that can trigger violence, such as bullying, intimidation and excessive job-related stress. And that goes for their own behavior, as well as that of employees.

Your managers should also learn about common issues that may lead to violence, such as poor performance reviews, firings, unwelcome changes in role and personal stress outside the workplace.

If the unthinkable happens

Being proactive about workplace violence prevention is definitely a smart move – and, hopefully, one that will minimize your risk. However, if it does occur, your first priority should always be the safety of your employees and your facilities.

Violence in the workplace is serious business. Learn how HR outsourcing can provide you with the help you need to keep your workplace safe and operating efficiently. Download our free e-book: HR outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to professional employer organizations (PEOs).