(Originally published in the March 2012 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal - Safety Culture feature)
“I’m tired of this! You can’t treat me this way! Who do you people think you are?” says the burly customer pounding his fist on the store counter.
As a manager, what do you do in a situation such as this? Do you step in? Do you call the police?
It is easy to agree that workplace violence is unacceptable, but it is not always clear how it should be dealt with. Developing a strong safety culture is one way to help prevent and cope with potentially violent situations. Implementing and communicating zero-tolerance policies and reporting procedures can help foster a safety culture.
Training for both employees and managers is also important in establishing a culture of non-violence. Teaching individuals when to invoke the policies and procedures is key. It is often difficult to identify when a situation is likely to become violent, therefore, training should include recognizing the “danger signs” — that is, the behavioral signs that a customer or client is likely to become violent.
This type of risk assessment is based on the notion of the assault cycle. The assault cycle is a model identifying the way in which a situation can escalate from aggressive behavior to an act of violence. It’s vital to recognize violence doesn’t “just happen”, rather individuals become increasingly agitated which ends in an act of violence. The task is to recognize when this cycle is initiating and to “short-circuit” the assault cycle.
The CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety at Saint Mary's University uses the SAV-T acronym (i.e., Swearing, Agitation, Volume, and Threat) to indicate some key escalation cues. Swearing, agitation, and volume may not, by themselves, indicate impending violence. When two or more criteria are coupled together, however, it should be a caution sign. At the first sign of agitation, swearing or shouting, employees should make it clear that aggressive behavior will not be tolerated. Consequences for unacceptable behavior should be communicated. Overall, boundaries should be simple, reasonable, and clear and individuals must be willing to enforce them if the need should arise.
If the situation continues to develop, then alternative techniques can be used and it is at this stage that supervisors might intervene. Empathic listening (i.e., acknowledging what the aggressor is saying by restating their arguments, refraining from making judgments, providing undivided attention, and focusing on feelings) and diffusing (i.e. using humor, when appropriate, and distractions, making requests, and providing suggestions for next steps and remedial action) are both effective techniques.
If escalation persists employees should call for security or assistance. Threat is a particular risk factor that should result in employees ceasing any attempts at de-escalation and removing themselves from the situation entirely.
Implementing the SAV-T model may result in one over-reacting in most situations with a potential for violence. However, it is far better than under-reacting.
• Up to 20 per cent of employees will be a victim of workplace violence in a given year.
• Between 2000 and 2008, almost 750 WCB claims resulted from acts of workplace violence. The vast majority of violent acts were perpetrated by members of the public rather than by co-workers or supervisors.
Source: CN Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
*Read more "Safety Culture" feature stories at: http://www.ns.dailybusinessbuzz.ca/Industry-Spotlight/Safety-Culture-22697