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Black Friday Brings Increased Risk of Workplace Violence

Armed RobberyEvery year, Black Friday (along with the holiday shopping season more generally) brings a reminder of the risk of workplace violence that retail workers face. Measured against most other employment sectors, retail workers are at an increased risk of physical injury or emotional stress from workplace violence. Robbery makes up the greatest number of violent incidents experienced by retail workers, with the majority of these crimes involving a deadly weapon. Employees working at convenience stores, gas stations and bars run some of the highest risks of injury from violence.

What is workplace violence?

L&I defines workplace violence as any physically violent act or threat of violence (harassment, intimidation or other forms of verbal abuse).  Examples of workplace violence run from threatening remarks to direct physical assault to homicide.  An incident of workplace violence can impact workers, customers or visitors.

Homicide is presently the fourth highest cause of fatal workplace injuries in the U.S. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI — a study generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics), out of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries in 2010, 506 were workplace homicides. Moreover, homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. [More…] Whatever shape it takes, workplace violence is a serious concern for American workers and employers.

Who is at risk of workplace violence?

Every year, close to 2 million American workers become victims of workplace violence, and experts estimate that many additional incidents go unreported.  Several key factors increase the risk of violence toward workers, including the exchange of money with members of the public, interaction with volatile, unstable populations, and working in a solitary capacity or in isolated areas.  In addition, providing care to individuals or working in venues that serve alcohol can increase the risk of violence. Late night shifts also put employees at higher risk. Some positions that carry significantly higher risks of violence include cashiers in retail jobs, delivery drivers, healthcare workers, and law enforcement personnel.

How can workplace violence hazards be reduced?

Risk of assault can be minimized if businesses and workers take certain precautions.One of the most valuable measures an employer can take is to implement a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Such policies should apply to all employees, patients, contractors, clients, visitors, and any members of the public who interact with company personnel.  Employers should also evaluate worksites to identify ways to reduce the likelihood of violent incidents.  OSHA reports that a well-designed Workplace Violence Prevention Program, coupled with administrative controls and effective training can lessen workplace violence.  A thorough risk assessment will take into consideration any incidents of violence over at least that past year, the history of violent incidents at other stores in your area (particularly similar workplaces), and the specific statistics and solutions for violent incidents within your industry.

All workers should know the policy and recognize that all reports of either verbal or physical violence will be investigated and dealt with promptly.  In addition, employers should assess their individual workplaces to determine if the following is necessary:

  • training workers in de-escalation techniques
  • installing adequate lighting in dark areas, such as parking lots
  • providing drop safes
  • providing workers with personal protective equipment like body armor (in the case of law enforcement or security personnel, for example).
  • overhead mirrors or security cameras
  • personal panic alarms as well as door and counter alarms

Readers interested in further discussion of workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities as they pertain to workplace violence are encouraged to read OSHA’s Workers page, or contact an employment attorney at Emery Reddy.

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