According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Among those with higher risk are workers who service the public, delivery drivers, customer service agents and those who work alone or in small groups.

And now, with the added stress of lockdowns and mask restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has noted an uptick in workplace violence related to the outbreak. There have been near-daily reports of customer incidents at retail and service businesses, most related to disputes over mask-wearing and competing demands for supplies.

Concerned HR and corporate security professionals are seeing a rise in “social distancing tension,” causing employees to argue about personal space, as well as a “weaponization of the virus”, where people intentionally cough or  spit on others. Additionally, there are safety concerns involving sick employees coming to work for fear of losing income.

What is workplace violence? Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assault. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. No matter how it manifests itself, workplace violence is a major concern for employers and employees nationwide.

Here are a few tips and strategies for preventing workplace violence:

Know your violence response procedures. Violence response procedures are simple plans designed to minimize injury during a violent incident. These procedures should include a plan to summon assistance and move people to a safe area.

Avoid confrontation. Employees should remain calm, not argue, and avoid verbal and physical response to threats.

Employers also should train employees on how to avoid heated conflict with other employees during disagreements over Covid-19 related safety measures.

Report it. Take violence and threats of violence seriously and report incidents to your superiors. Trust your instincts and don’t ignore your internal warning system. If you sense impending danger, react accordingly and report it.

Create a respectful work and service environment. The best way to prevent violence in the workplace is to foster a day-to-day attitude of respect and consideration in your work environment and the people you serve.

If you’d like to learn more about workplace violence prevention, please refer back to your online training provided by HR and visit the OSHA and CDC websites.

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