By WCI Principle Consultant, Jeffrey M. Miller SPS, DTI
While we can do little about what people believe, in general, about the world around them; as a member of executive management or the C-suite, we can certainly take responsibility for what we personally believe ourselves – especially when those beliefs are centered and focused around our own personal safety, and the safety of those for whom we’re responsible.
This article explores 9 of the most common myths C-Suite, VP, and executive managers often have about workplace violence, and how these unfounded beliefs not only serve to put your single most important asset – your people – at risk, but also affects your bottom line in many direct and indirect ways!
Myth #1: Workplace violence incidents are rare.
Unfortunately, we can find ourselves living in a bubble of complacency. And, unless we’re shaken out of our sleepwalking state by a terrifying news story, we tend to not notice less horrific things around us. Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting yourself, your people, and your shared workplace against something like violence, waiting means risking that the news story is about us!
While it is true that the medical industry typically doesn’t have to worry about workplace homicide as they are extremely rare, we shouldn’t be limiting our focus to just this one outcome. In fact, according to OSHA, there are over 1 million reported incidents of assault each year, just in the United States alone. And, since it’s estimated that only about half of all incidents are ever reported, the total is closer to 2 million. I have yet to speak at a medical conference or speak to medical professionals and hear that they do not see regular acts of violence against staff, especially coming from aggressive patients and family members.
Myth #2: It will never happen here.
This is often called the “Ostrich Syndrome.” You know, the dangerous belief that, “if I bury my head in the proverbial sand, I can make danger disappear.” The truth is that workplace violence can and does happen in any business, at anytime, and anywhere. In fact, I’ve consulted with executives, business owners, and employees from not only the US, but also Canada, Germany, England, France, Japan, and Thailand. And… the story is the same: The hospital-centric workplaces are one of the top three most violent environments in existence.
How bad is the syndrome? Glad you asked.
I once provided services as an expert witness in a case involving a nurse who had been maimed and disfigured by a patient looking for drugs where the hospital claimed that since they had never had an incident like this, that they had no need for workplace violence training for their staff. Now, either they had been the ONLY hospital where this never happened – EVER – or they were lying to cover their own lack of attention to a problem that has global impact!
Myth #3: Postal employees have more to worry about than I do.
Unfortunately, due to a few incidents which occurred decades ago, the post office and it’s employees have garnered a much undeserved reputation for violence. Even the phrase, “going postal,” is still popular after nearly four decades after it’s creation by a reporter using it in a story. The reality is that only about 3% of all incidents occur within all government agencies – combined!
In fact, post office employees, as with any government workers, are probably some of the “least” likely to encounter violence in the workplace. While occupations like nursing and other healthcare, teaching, and psychiatric counselors have some of the highest incidents – nurses themselves being 13 – 16 TIMES more likely to be attacked on the job than a police officer!
Myth #4: Workplace violence is a guy thing and women shouldn’t worry about it.
Again, this is not only wrong as I’ll explain in a moment but, the fact that 71% of healthcare employees are female makes this a mute point. The shear number of incidents occurring weekly, and even daily in some specialties, departments, and regions of the country points to the reality that this is very much a “woman” thing within the healthcare industry.
In addition, murder is the number one cause of death for women killed on the job according to OSHA. And, this is paled by the 13,000 rapes, 51,000 sexual assaults, and about 35% of the 600,000 simple assaults that occur in American workplaces every year. In other countries, like India, the Middle East, and the Far East, the percentages are even higher.
Men may perpetrate more of the attacks involving the use of guns, but women share the field almost equally when it comes to being the attacker and the victim. In addition, over 65% of all non-fatal workplace assaults occur in nursing homes, hospitals, residential care facilities, and other social service environments – places where women make up the vast majority of the work force.
Myth #5: Security guards and metal detectors will prevent workplace violence.
As a former police officer, I learned very quickly that security measures can do little to stop a determined perpetrator of a crime. This is even more true where anger, rage, pain, and confusion are high, as in the hospital environment. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a burglar, a rapist, murderer, or even a terrorist – the newest threat to workplace safety, passive security measure will never deter the person acting on impulse, nor the calculated attacker with a clear target in mind.
In fact security guards and detection devices can do little more than cause an attacker to think more creatively. And, even if they do prevent the outsider from entering your workplace, they can do little to stop current or former employees, friends, family members and visitors that would have both knowledge of your facility, and a reason to be there in the first place.
Myth #6: The only cost we’ll have to worry about is attorney fees.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to my share of human resources managers, administrators, and executives about the need for a workplace violence prevention plan and crisis response training program in their facility. In that time, one of the most disturbing comments that I’ve ever heard was, “that’s what our attorney’s are for.”
Not only can your attorney’s, or the police for that matter, “not” take away the damage, injuries, death, and destruction that can occur, but their fees will be the least of your problems. The true cost of workplace violence incidents are estimated to be between 5.5 and 2 million US dollars every year. Costs associated with your company’s recovery in the post-event aftermath include not only attorney’s fees, but also:
- Lost work time
- Lowered productivity due to stress
- Employee turn-over
- The effects of negative press and public image
- Property repairs
- Increased insurance premiums, and…
- Fines or judgments entered in favor of any plaintiffs suing you for liability.
To give you an idea about just one of these areas, OSHA reports that American companies pay for over 1,700,000 sick days annually due to lost time resulting directly from violence in the workplace.
Myth #7: He just “snapped.” We can’t prevent it because there are no warning signs.
Reports show that in 80% of all incidents of workplace violence, the assailant gave warning signs that went unheeded. In all of the programs that I teach, regardless of whether we’re talking about basic self-defense, street survival for law enforcement professionals, or workplace violence prevention and defensive tactics, “awareness” heads the list and, along with a solid response plan, is the easiest and most successful means for surviving a workplace violence attack.
The reality is that managers and employees alike can learn to anticipate, assess, deescalate, and even physically managing aggressive individuals can easily be put into place in your workplace, especially when the project is implemented in parts using both policy design and module-based training program roll-outs.
While not all situations can be prevented, and this is where a good, solid, ethical self-defense and attack avoidance program comes in, early awareness and action can save property, lives, money, guilt, and the embarrassment which can arise out of knowing that action “could” and “should” have been taken to prevent or minimize it.
Myth #8: We have insurance to cover the cost of damages.
Most workers and managers, as well as C-Suite and VP-level executives wrongly believe that they are covered completely by whatever insurance coverage is in place to protect the organization or facility. When, in fact, supervisors, managers, and others in an authority or leadership position can be, and often are, held personally responsible and sued in civil court for their own actions or failure to act, and the conduct of others over which they had authority.
And, while most carry some sort of liability coverage, you may find that your insurance policy may have clauses that exclude damages from certain types of actions. Like hospitals, universities, and other open, “porous” entities, your can be left holding the proverbial “bag” in the case of injuries, damages, or harm that comes to visitors, guests, and family members caught in the cross-fire of an event but who are not actually employees.
Myth #9: We have a workplace violence prevention policy so we’re safe.
In light of all the evidence, approximately 70% of U.S. companies across the board still do not have workplace violence plans, policies, or training programs. I have found that those who do, are still missing critical elements from these plans and leaving themselves open to the same or greater liability issues that their plans were supposed to eliminate in the first place.
In fact, during a discussion with a researcher during a recent international conference on workplace violence in the medical sector showed that, by and large, training which could actually prevent and mitigate damage from attacks that were imminent or actually occurring was, in his words, “practically non-existent!”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – CONSULTANT
Jeffrey M. Miller SPS, DTI is a former federal police officer, undercover investigator, private detective, and bodyguard. He is the founder of WCI Consulting, and a co-author of the books: “Workplace Violence In The Mental Health And General Healthcare System”, and “GIS in Hospital & Healthcare Emergency Management.”
If you’d like to make sure you and your people are as safe as possible acts of violence in the workplace, especially from aggressive patients and family members, I recommend that you call me at my international office in the US at +1-570-884-1119 for more information and to schedule your facility or department’s baseline threat/risk assessment and policies review. From there, we can then work together to design, upgrade, and/or implement a custom solution, tailored to your specific needs, as well as the author of “Attack-Proof Your Facility,” and producer of the video, “Danger Prevention Tactics: Protecting Yourself Like a Pro!”
Books & Video written, produced, or co-authored by Jeffrey M. Miller