How to Create a Workplace Preparedness Plan

Welcome to this article where we look at what should go into creating an effective workplace preparedness plan related to workplace violence. Creating such a plan can be one of the most important steps in dealing effectively with workplace violence. We will look at how to approach developing such a plan, some industry specific challenges, and some general steps. Let's get started.

Why look at this

Workers in virtually any workplace can be faced with the challenges of preventing workplace violence. One of the best ways to face the challenges is with an effective workplace preparedness plan.

Let's begin by looking at an example of the challenge in one particular industry that we can apply to others. Let's look at the healthcare industry where workers face the risk of workplace violence as we define it to cover any assault – physical or verbal – in a workplace. Here are examples of some of the many forms of violence in the healthcare workplace.

  • Verbal threats by patients
  • Physical threats by patients
  • Abuse from family members
  • Active shooters
  • Domestic disputes that impact the workplace
  • Bullying by a co-worker

The risk of violence to a healthcare worker is among the highest of any industry. Here are some reasons why.

  • Patients can have a history of violence

  • Patients can be delirious

  • Patients can be under the influence of drugs

Let's look at some solutions to problems of violence in this and other workplaces. Let's see how a workplace preparedness and prevention plan can help.

What we can consider

We should consider several types of workplace violence and not focus only on physical assault. We should also look at verbal violence as this can cause trauma and stress and lead to physical assault.

We should also point out that there is not one template or approach that works for all groups. We can only say that the best way to minimize the chance of violence is through a program of preparedness and prevention. Let's look at what should go into such a program to make it successful.

Management must support the program

Commitment from management is a must to make a preparedness program successful. Employees must also participate. Ways that management shows commitment to prevent workplace violence is my communicating this commitment. They must also:

  • Make the plan for workplace violence a top priority

  • Establish specific objectives

  • Provide resources

  • Provide leaders who have the right knowledge

  • Set an example  

Employees should be involved at every point of the program. This will make the program effective. Employees should communicate openly with management. If an employee reports a concern, management should not punish the employee. Instead the employee should not be afraid to speak up.

Put documentation, procedures, and training into place

The program should stress the importance of analyzing the workplace and hazards that could lead to workplace violence. The program should have in place procedures to continuously assess and reassess the environment and incidents. Accident review boards can help.

Also in place should be procedures to prevent hazards. You should continuously look at the hazards and eliminate them. These should be hazards the could lead to workplace violence. Tracking progress can help.

Training must be part of the program and include safety and health training. All workers must be included. Hazard recognition should be part of the training. Workers should be aware of their responsibilities and what to do in case of an emergency.

Keep records

Also part of the program should be keeping records of incidents, assaults, hazards, corrective actions, and training. This can help an organization figure out where problems exist. In analyzing the records an organization can determine how to solve problems and improve processes and training. The organization must continually look at the program and how to improve it.

A look at the big picture

The program must include these elements and be a written program. This is how an organization will systematically improve. Employers and employees must work together to be aware of and prepared for workplace violence and how best to deal with it. Just as a healthcare organization has a written plan on dealing with blood borne pathogens or waste, it should have a written plan on how to deal with issues related to workplace violence.

The first steps

Here are some of the reasons an organization looks at creating a plan.

  • A shooting took place at the facility

  • An incident took place and was covered by media

With such a prompt, an organization can decide to put into place a plan. Here is where they can start.

1.    Bring together a planning group.

2.    Task the group with addressing workplace violence issues.

3.    Communicate to the group management support.

4.    Require that the group meet specific deliverables on policies and procedures.

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5.    Give the group the resources they need to do the job assigned.

Members of the committee should include staff from all areas of the organization. This can include union members and patient advocates. Here is an example of how the group can proceed.

1.      Collect data to identify issues.

2.      Make the data include results from employee surveys.

3.      Survey employees on opinions and experiences.

4.      Interview employees.

5.      Conduct patient surveys.

6.      Frame questions to get a good picture of opinions and experiences.

7.      Let workers complete surveys and interviews during work time.

8.      Set up focus groups to get discussions going and document conclusions.

Employee participation is a must

While commitment from management is the first step, after that must come participate from all workers. Commitment from management should include:

  • Administrators

  • Safety managers

  • Supervisors

Management must make clear that violence in their workplace is not acceptable. Management must stress that consequences and disciplinary action will come if an employee does not follow guidelines on workplace violence. Management must also provide an environment where workers trust that reporting an incident will lead to an improvement. Continuous improvement is a must to success.

Management must also:

  • Create a written policy on workplace violence

  •  Post the written document

  • Let patients, visitors, and other be aware of the policy

  • Make a clear statement of commitment

  • Explain consequences for violating the policy

Employee participation will follow once management commitment appears. Employees must report violent incidents for the program to work. Management must continually reassure workers that action will come in response to reports of incidents. Those who make reports will not suffer.

In forming committees to do work on the program you can include:

  • Human resources

  • Safety

  • Legal

  • Security

  • Union representation

  • Local law enforcement

  • Direct care staff

Committee representatives may depend on the focus of the work.

  • Patient on employee

  • Employee on employee

Here are some practices to consider to make the program effective.

  • Give staff time off from patient care to attend meetings

  • Hold both regular and ad hoc meetings

  • Get worker involvement in making decision

  • Address safety concerns promptly

A scenario to consider

Imagine an institution that treats patients with psychiatric conditions. The institution sees patients for short stays. This is in contrast to in the past when patients typically stayed for life. The patients currently seen at the institution have more severe problems than those of the past. They also pose more of a threat. Currently thinking is also to reduce the use of seclusion and restraints.

Workers feel workplace violence now is a greater threat than in the past. How could such an institution create a program to help address this concern? Here is a possible approach.

1.    Set up focus groups.

2.    Include managers in the focus groups.

3.    Get input from staff. Include all shifts.

4.    Encourage staff to speak freely.

5.    Conduct some meeting without supervisors and record observations.

6.    If staff feel violence is part of the job note this and discuss how to deal with this.

7.    If staff feel violence is accepted now note that and discuss how to deal with this.

8.    Keep the dialog going over several years.

9.    Implement daily safety briefing.

10. Create a written program on workplace violence.

11. Create a training program.

12. Continuously reassess and improve the program and training.

Ongoing discussion of this type can lead to minimizing workplace violence.

More on an overall program and plan

Let's look now at some steps you can take to implement a workplace violence preparedness and response plan. Here are steps you can take to develop such a plan.

1.    Identify incidents. With this step we should look at the current environment that could lead to workplace violence. Are employees threatening customers? Are workers threatening each other? What incidents of injury or death have happened at the site or a similar site?

2.    Develop a written plan. Address any issues identified in step 1. This can be a continuous improvement process. The first iteration may address the items of primary importance with future iterations to expand and improve the plan. For example, a plan can include when to call 911, especially if workers identify a need for guidelines on this.

3.    Put the written plan into action. Make all workers aware of the written plan developed in step 2. Have departments develop plans for their own implementation. This can include an exit strategy and identification of safe areas. This should also include details on pre incident preparation.

4.    Put into place a way to communicate during a crises and how to debrief. Write down how your group will communicate in the case of an incident. Write down how a debrief will take place after an incident. For the communication portion of this step consider the notification systems the organization has.

5.    Put training into place. Make sure all workers receive training. Cover warning signals, what to do in an emergency, shutdown procedures during an emergency, lockdown procedures during an emergency, evacuation procedures, and headcount procedures. Make sure management gets training that includes information about the leadership they should exhibit during a crisis, how to handle media relations, and responsibilities outlined in the written plan for minimizing workplace violence. Crisis response teams must receive training on authority, how to use equipment, and how to handle communication.

6.    Complete testing. In this step you conduct a crisis drill as one example. This can include discussions of mock scenarios, exercises in classroom settings, drills on building evacuations, exercises with police and fire personnel.

7.    Integrate with other plans in the organization. Here the organization must integrate the violence preparedness plan with out crisis management plans in the organization. This should include integration with a business continuity plan.

While a workplace violence preparedness plan should have an approach to fit its unique challenges, we should also remember to make this plan fit in with the crisis management approaches the organization takes in general. The group developing the violence preparedness plan should reach out throughout the organization to make coordination happen.

Some general considerations to keep in mind when developing the workplace violence preparedness plan include:

1.    Make the plan practical. If it is unusually complicated it will be harder to follow. Checklists can help to make it more practical.

2.    Look at what other groups are doing successfully. Learn from the mistakes of others.

3.    Be flexible. The plan may not work exactly as designed. Be prepared to test and improve the plan continuously.

Let's remind ourselves that in today's world we have great concern over workplace violence. We have concern over plans about how to deal in the workplace with terrorism, bomb threats, and violence from those who are disgruntled and other examples of workplace violence. A plan is the best way to minimize the chance of workplace violence and maximize the chance of dealing effectively with such violence if it occurs.

A quick review

We have now looked at creating an effective workplace preparedness plan related to workplace violence. We saw that creating such a plan can be one of the most important steps in dealing effectively with workplace violence. We saw that management support and employee involvement is important. We also looked at some industry specific challenges as well as general guidelines. We hope you found the information in this article of value.