Workplace Safety

Working Proactively to Prevent Violence

Employees and employers must learn to spot the red flags that signal a situation on the brink of turning violent.
By: | January 29, 2016 • 3 min read

Decreased productivity, a change in work habits, excessive tardiness, and frequently missed deadlines may be indications of an employee on the verge of committing violence, says an expert.

Many companies miss the warning signs because people at all levels are unaware of the red flags and/or don’t know what to do if they see them.

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Often, there is an accumulation of events leading up to a violent incident. Employers and employees must be able to connect the dots in order to mitigate a potential tragedy.

“What I usually find is that employees may see a sign on its own, something that they may view as inappropriate behavior, but on its own it is not a significant issue,” said Carol Frederickson, CEO of Violence Free, a violence-prevention consulting firm.

“Individually, these incidents may seem unimportant, but collectively they may paint a picture of something much more serious.”

Frederickson, who spent 15 years in law enforcement, says problems such as financial pressures, health concerns, family turmoil, and mental illness can lead someone on a downward spiral toward violence.

She will outline the warning signs and discuss ways employers can proactively address violence during the American Society of Safety Engineers’ SeminarFest on Feb. 11.

“I think people in general are in denial that it could happen to them or at their workplace,” she said.

“In our minds, the two places that we are the safest are in our homes and our work, so we just believe that this could not happen, that no one we work with could possibly do this. We may ignore some of the warning signs because we think ‘it happens someplace else, not here.’”

Warning Signs

A change in personality is one of the warning signs, Frederickson explains. A person who has been outgoing becomes quiet and withdrawn, even defensive and possibly displays unjustified anger.

“Often, however, people chalk these issues up to someone having a bad day or a bad week, which only pushes the boundaries of aggressive behavior further, sometimes to the point where the potentially violent person ‘holds all the power and controls the office.’”

“Every place of employment, no matter the size, needs to have a workplace violence policy that is easily understood and has clear reporting policies.” — Carol Frederickson, CEO, Violence Free.

Someone who obsesses about a topic and talks about it constantly may also be at risk of violence. But such behaviors are typically not reported and the company cannot intercede in time.

“Every place of employment, no matter the size, needs to have a workplace violence policy that is easily understood and has clear reporting policies,” Frederickson says. She recommends employers include the following in their violence-prevention policies:

    • Create a threat assessment or crisis team that includes representatives of human resources, security, facility management, risk management, unions, operations, communications and in-house legal counsel. The group should meet when there is a threat of violence or when the company has a high-risk termination.
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  • Conduct a gap analysis to identify vulnerabilities. These will typically reveal several concerns such as whether employees who drive company vehicles know how to handle a road rage incident or whether there has been special training for workers who travel.
  • Employee training is critical so people know what they are expected to do. “The procedures about when to call, whom to call, and related steps must be very clear,” she says.

Getting top-level executives involved is critical and typically comes down to money. When executives see money being used for investigations, legal fees, or something similar, they may ask why action was not taken before.

“That’s why any program developed must include 60 to 90 minutes of dedicated training for these executives,” Frederickson says. “This leads to a much better result throughout the organization.”

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]