What are companies and organizations doing these days about the problem of workplace violence? Not that much, according to a recent follow-up survey by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), which found that, surprisingly, employers in all industries are doing very little differently to address the issue than they did five years ago, pre-9/11.

Homicides are the third-highest cause of on-the-job deaths, according to 2002 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Prior to 9/11, when terrorists killed closed to 3,000 workers, workplace violence/homicides were still one of the top causes of on-the-job fatalities.

In 1999, the ASSE Risk Management/Insurance Practice Specialty group surveyed ASSE members on what was being done to address workplace violence in their workplace. The follow-up survey of ASSE members done this past spring, titled "ASSE 2004 Workplace Violence Survey & White Paper," revealed that not much had changed.

In the 2004 survey, just over half the respondents (56 percent) said their organization has established or revised security policy since 9/11, while less than half (44 percent) said they have changed emergency procedures. Thirty-four percent said they’ve increased employee contact, training and discussions on the topic, and 18 percent said their organization has made no changes.

"These are surprising results and we are concerned that more is not being done to address workplace violence," said ASSE President Gene Barfield, CSP.

The 2004 survey also showed that little or no workplace violence training has been provided and there was an increase in the number of respondents from the earlier survey, (74 percent compared to 70 percent in 1999), who said their company had not done a formal risk assessment. In 2004, only one percent of respondents said their company had a written policy addressing violence in the workplace. However, 90 percent of those responding said their company has a policy addressing weapons in the workplace.

Here’s what employers can do to address workplace violence, as suggested by the survey/white paper:

  • Officers and directors — Establish a workplace violence prevention policy; upper management must promote a clear antiviolence corporate policy; establish and maintain security policies.

  • Human resource managers — Examine and improve hiring practices; implement prescreening techniques; utilize background checks; encourage employees to report threats or violent behavior; establish termination policies; provide post-termination counseling.

  • Risk management and SH&E departments — Train all employees in the warning signs of aggressive or violent behavior; train management in threat assessment and de-escalation techniques; conduct a formal workplace violence risk assessment; develop and communicate a contingency plan to all employees that includes crisis management and media relations; review insurance coverage and verify coverage and exclusions; identify a defensive strategy.

    A total of 4,560 surveys were mailed in April 2004 to randomly selected ASSE members and 755 surveys were returned, about a 17 percent return rate.