WEBINAR: Enhancing employee safety is a team effort

Learn how employers and workers can create an effective workplace violence prevention plan—together

By Kristen Green Seymour

Workplace violence is on the rise, says Jessica Molina, PHR, CVPM, a senior risk consultant (veterinary) for HUB International.

“Workplace violence resulting in fatalities have begun to increase from 392 in 2020 to 481 reported deaths in 2021, and 524 in 2022,” she says. “Of those victims, 30% were performing retail-related tasks, such as tending to the establishment or waiting on customers.”

“We do not yet have 2023 workplace violence data,” she says, “but I think we can all agree, of the two veterinary practice shootings that left three dead last year, that’s two incidents too many.”

Molina, along with Matt Gilmore, CSP, CLCS, CFPS, ARM, senior vice president and risk services leader at HUB International, will be discussing this on May 15 at noon Mountain Time in a free AAHA Learning webinar, Workplace Violence: Security and Prevention for Veterinary Professionals webinar, sponsored by HUB International.

Surprising possible reasons for the rise in violence

Assuming workplace violence only pertains to acts of physical violence is a common misconception, says Molina, and that’s a problem because it limits the opportunity to prepare because the focus remains on the response.

Ideally, she says, “We want to be what we call ‘left of event,’ focusing on prevention.”

The definition of workplace violence isn’t the only obstacle to preventing it; Molina also points to mindset challenges that impact the ability to mitigate workplace violence risks, such as:

  • “My coworkers are my family. We’ve worked together for a long time. I know them well.”
  • “I have thorough employee screening and hiring processes. I do background checks.”
  • “My team and I are deeply rooted in our community. Everyone looks after one another here.”
  • “We are in a very safe area where crime doesn’t really exist (except maybe petty crimes).”
  • Regardless of how well we know our colleagues and how safe we believe our community to be, complacency must be avoided.

“We cannot assume we are immune from incidents of violence in the workplace,” Molina says. “In the last three veterinary practice shootings, one shooter was a client, one was a former employee, and the other was the victim’s relative.”

Although we don’t have a great deal of vet med-specific data on workplace violence, Molina says that a majority, if not all practices have experienced some form of violence.

“Most are lucky; the level of violent encounters has not resulted in physical harm,” she says. But trauma doesn’t only come from physical harm, so preventing workplace violence—in all its forms—must be a priority for practices that want to create a safe environment.

Creating a workplace violence prevention program

“A successful workplace violence prevention program includes physical and procedural controls and training,” Molina says.

Physical controls might include things like physical locks or alarms, while procedural controls might include something like training staff on trauma-informed care as a way to increase awareness of triggers or roots of violent behavior.

And, while the true goal of a well-developed and implemented workplace violence prevention plan is to assure employee preparedness in potentially dangerous situations, she says the benefits go beyond that: “A workplace violence prevention program, paired with a culture of safety, will not only reduce incident risks, but will also increase employee satisfaction, reduce absenteeism, improve the business reputation, and save the business money.”

(It’s worth noting that a workplace violence prevention plan isn’t only a smart move—it could become mandated, as will be the case for most California employers effective July 1. More states are expected to follow suit, Molina says.)

Of course, having a plan is one thing. Creating it is something else. Fortunately, Molina shared some tips for creating a well-developed and implemented workplace violence prevention.

8 Steps for an effective (and compliant) workplace violence prevention plan

The plan should be written out, organized, and easy to understand, following these guidelines:

  1. Outline the policy, scope, and purpose of the program.
  2. Identify and outline the roles and responsibilities such as who will implement and manage the plan, train employees, develop protocols, and respond to events. Be sure to include expectations.
  3. Determine how program compliance will be assessed.
  4. Determine all the workplace violence scenarios, actual and potential, then outline the specific response steps. Once you have done this, you may want to go back to the roles and responsibilities to ensure alignment and thoroughness.
  5. Think through and lay out the strategy for how you will ensure the safety of the team and security of the facility. Again, revisit each potential threat to determine what additional measures may need to be taken. Some of these items may also need to be added to or reviewed in your routine workplace security self-assessment.
  6. Identify necessary support resources and services.
  7. Outline how hazards will be identified, evaluated, and corrected.
  8. Determine how incidents will be handled, what the post–incident response and investigation processes will be.

Taking a team approach

Creating a good workplace violence prevention program is a team effort that requires investment and participation from individuals at every level, from the workers to the manager to leadership. This teamwork is crucial because different groups bring unique perspectives and understandings to the table, along with varying abilities to enact necessary changes.

Molina suggests the following for employers and employees:

Risk mitigation strategies for employers

  • Create a Workplace Violence Prevention program. In addition, establish policies and procedures that include employee training, emergency action plans, conflict and de-escalation practices, and processes for reporting threats or concerns. Train on these regularly!
  • Consider implementing a zero-tolerance policy that is communicated to clients, visitors, and employees.
  • Identify and implement risk appropriate security measures and processes such as reputation platform monitoring and response, personal security plans, and workplace security self-assessments.
  • Foster a “See Something, Say Something” culture.
  • Have a reporting process for threats with employees educated on process.
  • Facilitate the enforcement of standards and policies, including disciplinary action for failing to abide by policies.
  • Risk mitigation strategies for employees
  • Know your risks and how to respond.
  • Avoid conscious complacency.
  • Recognize early warning signs, including extraneous activity or behavior.
  • Listen to gut feelings.
  • Be prepared to manage threats.
  • Report suspicious activity, threats, or concerns.

To learn more about workplace violence, including identifying risks and creating a plan that works for your workplace, be sure to register for the free webinar on May 15.

Further reading

Workplace Violence (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

Assault Fifth Leading Cause of Workplace Deaths (National Safety Council)

Occupational Violence (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Workplace violence: homicides and nonfatal intentional injuries by another person in 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Kristen Green Seymour is AAHA’s Copywriter.

Cover photo credit:  © nicoletaionescu E+ via Getty Images Plus

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.



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