Using Technology to Protect Employees from Workplace Violence
Workplace violence has ripple effects that impact all employees, not only those who directly experienced it.
Violence is an occupational hazard that can affect employees in any field or industry. OSHA defines workplace violence as an act or threat of “physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior.” It includes not only physical assault, but also verbal abuse and threats of harm.
Occupational violence affects over 20,000 people each year. And while anyone can be subject to it, there are some patterns that are worth noting. Those more likely to be victims of occupational violence include:
- Female workers (73% of victims)
- Employees aged 25 to 54 (62% of victims)
- Those employed in healthcare and social assistance
While violent incidents can seem spontaneous and unpredictable, there are steps employers can take to protect their staff from this unfortunately common workplace hazard.
In this article, we'll go over some technological solutions that can mitigate the risk of violence and keep workers safe on the job.
The Impact of Workplace Violence
Occupational violence has ripple effects that significantly impact all employees, not only those who are direct victims of it. When a workplace is subject to violence, some of the effects include:
- Increased absenteeism (employees are more likely to take days off work following a violent incident)
- Adverse presenteeism (those who show up to work may be unfocused or unproductive if they are still shaken by the event)
- Increased turnover (workers who don't feel safe are more likely to seek employment elsewhere)
- Decreased morale (workers who deal with violence or the threat of violence are less satisfied with their jobs compared to those who feel safe)
- Increased costs (workers’ compensation claims, post-incident counseling, and other expenses create financial strain for the company)
Violence at work not only causes immediate harm and stress, but it can have lasting effects on workers. Research shows that up to up to 32% of employees will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other traumatic disorders after experiencing workplace violence. As many as 20% of employees will also develop depressive symptoms.
(Learn more about Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the Construction Industry)
Technologies That Can Enhance Worker Safety
Like any occupational hazard, workplace violence is best managed with a multi-pronged strategy. Training, procedures, and protocols all play a role in reducing the risk of threats or assault, but a comprehensive approach will also make use of technological solutions.
Here are some of the tools you can use to enhance the safety of your workers and reduce the risk of violence in your workplace.
Surveillance systems consist of cameras that are strategically placed throughout the facility. Together, these cameras provide a visual overview of the entire worksite, which is continuously recorded and can be viewed from a centralized location or remotely through mobile devices.
Surveillance systems can act as a deterrent, since knowing they are being recorded can be sufficient to prevent people from engaging in acts of violence. Recordings captures by these systems can also be used as key pieces of evidence after an act of violence occurs.
Panic Buttons and Alarms
Panic buttons and alarms are some of the best safety devices for lone workers, such as healthcare workers and security guards.
Employees who frequently work alone can use panic buttons or alarms to call for help when they've been attacked, received a threat, suffered an injury, or feel they are otherwise at risk. These devices are especially helpful when they are able to share the wearer's location, ensuring that they can be found even if they're unconscious or incapable of speaking.
Other types of wearable technology can also be used alongside or in place of panic buttons. Many smartwatches, for instance, include location sharing features and numerous communication methods (including texting, voice messages, and phone calls) to help workers stay connected to their supervisors and other team members.
Wearable devices can also be used to ensure compliance with company safety protocols, including those intended to reduce the risk of violence. For example, they can alert a supervisor if an employee enters an area they aren’t supposed to be in alone.
Duress Codes and Safe Words
Many safety devices can be programmed with unique duress codes. When entered, these codes send a message to security personnel, law enforcement, emergency services, and other professionals who can step in and prevent harmful situations from escalating.
Employees should also have safe words that they can speak aloud or type to identify themselves and specify the type of problem they’re experiencing.
Adoption Challenges and Considerations
Safety technology offers numerous benefits when it comes to addressing and preventing workplace violence. Along with all the upsides, however, these devices also come with potential challenges that employers should take into consideration. These include:
- Improper fit: wearable devices should fit correctly and be comfortable enough to wear for extended periods of time; otherwise, they may be lost or used inconsistently
- User apprehension: employees should be given education and training on the value of the technology being implemented, how it works, and the ways it can protect them from the damaging effects of workplace violence
- Improper use: safety devices only protect workers if they are used as intended; therefore, workers should be given ongoing training to ensure they know how to use the technology correctly
It’s also important to note that safety technology is most effective in a company with a robust safety culture. Administering safety devices is an excellent first step, but that's precisely what it is - a first step. Employers must follow up by implementing additional measures to protect team members, customers, and the entire company from occupational violence.
(Find out How to Build a Sustainable Safety Culture)
From panic buttons to surveillance cameras, numerous technologies can keep workers safe from occupational violence - as long as the users receive proper training on how and when to use these tools.
Workplace violence has repercussions that affect all employees, even those who have not experienced it directly. By implementing safety measures, including the right technology, you can create a work environment where all team members are protected and feel safe.