The Impact of Environmental Factors in Workplace Violence

Welcome to this article on environmental factors and how they can impact workplace violence. We will look at how to prevent and deal with workplace violence. More specifically we will learn about emergency codes and procedures. We will also take a big picture look at how an organization could be a breeding ground for possible workplace violence. Let's get started.

A look at codes

In this section we look at a definition of duress codes and related information. This type of code is a distress signal. A person uses it when they are being coerced as during an incident of workplace violence. You use it to warn others you are being forced to do something against your will. You could use a duress code, for example, during a robbery.

You could use the code in a way that is discrete as in what appears to be a conversation. You place the phrase or code word into the conversation to alert of a problem. The duress code could also be a password. It could be different than a regular password. An example of how you could use this code is if you are threatened when you are making a deposit at an ATM machine.

Using a cell phone can be a good form of communication for duress codes. You can use a phrase as a signal you need help. The buddy system can help here. The buddy at work will know the signal word.

Another technique for alerting that there is a problem is to set up an email notice when you use a particular card. When you make a withdrawal with this card you send an email that there has been an incident at the ATM location.

Here are general examples of where a duress code could help with an incident of workplace violence.

1.    A manager at a convenience store texts a code word to indicate an incidence of workplace violence such as a robbery.

2.    The receptionist at an office is confronted with a visitor who is suspicious. The receptionist can use the intercom to page Mr. Abbott with that being a signal that she needs assistance.

3.    During a reduction in force, a supervisor sees suspicious activity. The supervisor calls to say he needs to talk to Mr. Abbott. This signals to call the police for help.

Here are some good practices when using a duress code.

  • Do not use words such as help or mayday.

  • Avoid confusing terms. If you have a code black and code grey you could confuse the two easily.

  • Avoid having more than one code. Too many codes can cause confusion.

  • Do not allow experiments with codes as, for example, a joke. Take codes seriously

  • Make codes simple. A code to call 911 is a good practice.

  • Discuss codes often at meetings

When you discuss codes at meetings, remind people of how they are important. Practice using them at meetings to keep the information fresh in the minds of employees. 

Emergency procedures at a work place

If you have an incident with workplace violence, a good practice is to have emergency procedures in place and training on those procedures. This way employees know what to do. Let's look at some of these procedures at a hospital. You want to protect everyone including patients, staff, and visitors. Here are the procedures.

Designate a person at each shift to be responsible for emergency coordination including workplace violence. Train all staff on how to recognize an emergency such as workplace violence. Here are steps you could use in the process.

1.    Detect the incident of workplace violence.

2.    Acknowledge that it is an emergency.

3.    Use the appropriate code.

4.    Communicate with management and staff about what has happened.

5.    Implement any action plan such as evacuation or exit to a safe area.

Training of all staff should happen during employee orientation with continuous retraining to include:

  • Emergency codes

  • Response to codes

  • Evacuation procedures

  • Emergency exits

  • Use of emergency equipment

Here are examples of emergency codes at a hospital with some applying to possible workplace violence.

  • Code purple means a bomb threat

  • Code black means a personal threat

  • Code orange means evacuation 

  • Code red means fire

  • Code blue means medical emergency

  • Code yellow means internal emergency

  • Code brown means external emergency

Responding to an emergency at a hospital

All employees should get training on how to respond to an emergency. Here are some typical good practices.

1.    Follow the emergency procedure for your area.

2.    Remain calm and do not panic.

3.    Make the alarm according to your policy.

4.    Indicate the location of the emergency.

5.    Alert all staff and patients.

6.    Remove people who are in danger.

7.    Keep phone lines open.

8.    Provide assistance as needed.

9.    Evacuate if instructed to do so.

Here are examples of more specific procedures and emergencies that include infant or child abduction, abusive or combative persons, persons with weapons, hostage situations, bomb threats, and suspicious packages.

  • For an infant abduction you should screen everyone leaving a building, be alert for people with children, and report suspicious activity to security. 

  •  For a case with an abusive or combative person, assist staff and security according to your organization's policy.

    Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Workplace Violence course?
  • For a case where a person has a weapon or is holding hostages, you should escape and find shelter. Use the telephone code if established by your organization, report as much information as possible including injuries, and call 911. Stay away from the location, evacuate patients as possible.

For bomb threats, here are typical guidelines on what to do.

1.    Do not use a cell phone near the area of a reported bomb.

2.    If you receive a bomb threat via telephone, get as much information as possible and complete any forms according to the policy at your organization.

3.    Keep the caller on the phone as long as possible

4.    Ask a coworker to place the bomb threat code into the system your group uses.

5.    Report the information in any bomb threat form according to your policy.

6.    Contact your supervisor.

7.    Keep information about the threat as described in your policy.

8.    Be prepared to answer questions from police staff.

9.    Assist with evacuation effort

For suspicious packages, here are typical guidelines on what to do.

1.    Do not use a cell phone near the area of the package.

2.    Do not remove and do not touch the package.

3.    Move yourself and others away from the package.

4.    Use the code your organization has in place for this.

5.    Contact your supervisor.

6.    Relay specific information about where the package is including building name, floor, corridor, room number. Describe the package and where you noticed it. Describe what is suspicious. Provide information about how to contact you.

7.    Be available to answer questions from police staff.

8.    Assist with evacuation efforts.

Additional best practices when dealing with codes

We should note that hospital throughout the world use codes to communicate about emergencies such as workplace violence. Codes can relay information quickly with little misunderstanding. They can also help cut down on panic for patients, staff, and visitor. Here are some practices hospitals use.

  • Postings about codes throughout the hospital

  • Codes printed on employee identification badges

  • Training and retraining on use of codes

Not all hospitals use the same codes but these are typical.

  • Code blue means a bomb threat, terrorist attack, or multiple people have died in a building

  • Code black means to evacuate a building or seek shelter

  • Code red means cardiac arrest

  • Code white means aggression or violent behavior

  • Code purple means hostage taking

We should note that in 2000 three persons were killed in a shooting incident at a medical facility in California when someone used the wrong emergency code. As a result guidelines were developed for standardization. Hospitals are urged to use these standard codes. A state can require use of these codes. Concerning workplace violence here are codes that can apply.

  • Code silver means a weapon or hostage situation

  • Code grey means a combative person – including abusive behavior by medical staff, patients, families, and visitors

  • Code amber means theft or armed robbery

  • Code clear means the emergency is over

A look at organizations that could be breeding workplace violence

Let's look now at a bigger picture view not only of codes that can indicate workplace violence but how organizations in general can be a breeding place for such violence.

Data shows that in the United States over 10,000 a week are victims of nonfatal workplace assaults and about 20 workers a week are murdered on the job. If an organization is not proactive with training and policies, the organization could be breeding violence in the workplace.

If an organization allows certain kinds of behavior it could be a matter of time before workplace violence becomes a reality. The behavior allowed could be verbal abuse, use of profanity, yelling, waving fists, or any other activity that disturbs normal work operations. If someone says "I'll get you" take this as a warning sign of possible future workplace violence.

If an organization ignores warning signs, the organization could be a breeding ground for future workplace violence. Here are some of the warning signs.

  • Employee complaints

  • Customer complaints

  • Poor job performance

  • Tardiness that is excessive

  • High employee turnover

  • Poor morale

  • Management that does not actively diffuse volatility

If an organization further ignores this type of behavior, the impact could be great. Again, they could be a breeding ground for future workplace violence.

  • Indirect or direct threats

  • Intimidation

  • Harassment

  • Bullying

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Conflict with supervisors

  •  Interest in weapons

  • Bringing a gun to the workplace

  • Talk about workplace violence

  • Talk about personal problems with money and family

  • Talk about suicide

  • Drug abuse

  • Alcohol abuse

  • Changes in behavior

If an organization lacks a program to train employees on workplace violence and how to avoid it, the organization could be breeding future incidents of workplace violence.

Training is a critical component of any prevention strategy. Training is necessary for employees, supervisors, and the staff members who may be involved in responding to a workplace violence incident. Here are topics the training should cover.

  • What is the policy concerning workplace violence of the organization

  • How to report an incident of workplace violence

  • How to prevent an incident of workplace violence

  • How to diffuse aggressive behavior

  • How to deal with a hostile person

  • Encouraging the reporting of incidents of workplace violence

  • How to manage anger

  • How to resolve conflicts

  • Stress management

  • Relaxation techniques

  •  Wellness training

  • Security procedures

  • Location of alarm system

If management is not proactively and actively involved in helping to prevent workplace violence, the organization could be a breeding ground for such violence in the future. Management needs proper training on how to diffuse situations that could turn violent. They need to have the proper leadership skills, set clear standard, address problems promptly, and use discipline properly including the use of counselling and probationary periods. This all contributes to a culture that does not breed workplace violence.

Management training should include:

  • How to encourage workers to report incidents

  • How to explain what workplace violence is

  • Skills in supporting those who report incidents

  • Skills in showing compassion

  • Skills in taking disciplinary action

  • How to handle a crisis situation

  • How to handle emergency procedures

  •  How to properly screen people who apply for work

  • How to secure the workplace

If a organization does not take specific steps to minimize workplace violence, the organization could become a breeding ground for workplace violence. Measure can include:

  • Surveillance systems

  • Keys

  • Photo identification badges

  • Using guards

Here are some best practices. If an organization does not use these, the chance of workplace violence could grow.

1.    Screen employees before hiring them

2.    Know who is entering a building

3.    Use cameras to monitor all exits and entrances

4.    Place a phone or intercom at remote areas

5.    Tell a receptionist if you are expecting a visitor

6.    Escort all visitors

7.    Do not allow visitors free access to or within your building

8.    Escort those walking to an automobile in the dark

If an organization lacks training and security measures, you could be creating an environment that breeds the possibility of workplace violence. Create the right environment and you can minimize the chances for workplace violence.

A quick review

In this article we looked at environmental factors and how they relate to preventing and dealing with workplace violence. We looked specifically at codes that can alert an organization to workplace violence and how to respond to those codes. We also took a big picture look at how an organization could be a breeding ground for possible workplace violence.