Columbus, Ohio — Workplace violence comes in many forms, not just the cataclysmic events that make the evening news, according to Brad Ridenour, an Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation official. He said companies need to have a written plan and foster good communications with employees.
"When somebody has concerns — your employees have a concern — you need to have an open-door policy so you can hear what that concern is," Ridenour said in a presentation at Manufacturers Association for Plastics Processors' Environmental Health and Safety Summit in Columbus.
Ridenour, an industrial engineer and ergonomist at the Ohio BWC, speaks to companies about workplace violence. He said it's important to start talking about the issue.
"There are decisions that every company must make. In this day and age, you've got to have a discussion with management and staff," he said.
Unfortunately, he said, "There is still an element of let's just say, head-buried-in-the-sand, it-can't-happen-to-us [attitude]. That's becoming less and less as we see more and more news."
Workplace shootings grab headlines. Homicide in the workplace is the second-leading cause of the 4,500 on-the-job fatalities each year, Ridenour said.
But he stressed that nonfatal violence is more common at work, affecting about one in 500 employees, according to government statistics.
"We don't hear about a lot of these — if your coworker shoves you or bullies you. Just because TV crews haven't been outside the building doesn't mean you haven't had workplace violence," Ridenour said.
Bomb threats and unwanted physical contact are all forms of violence.
"They're all considered workplace violence. It's a broad topic today," he said. "It's not just active shooters. And you can't let management think it's only active shooters."
And Ridenour told MAPP conference attendees that the idea of a "workplace" is broad.
"It is not just your facility. It's not just your place of business. How many of you have people on the road? How many of you have people that make deliveries? How many of you have people that work at home offices or work remotely? These are all places where you have to consider what's going on with workplace violence," he said. "There's all sorts of scenarios that you have to consider. This is not just the front door."
Ridenour ran through some scenarios and warning signs. A typical company has an atrium where you buzz in, but actual receptionists are becoming rare. Some factories leave loading bay doors open all summer.
Visitor badges are good, but you should collect them when the visitor leaves, Ridenour said. He said there are stickers that, after a certain number of hours, change to show a stop sign. It's important to take security measures, he said, joking that: "Do you know how many visitor badges wind up in my car?"
Another potential threat is a disgruntled customer or client. A warning sign is an increasing number of complaints about a product or service.
"It's the littlest thing that pushes people over the edge," he said. "You never know."
Another potential problem is a troubled employee, or someone who gets laid off and becomes very upset, Ridenour said. He said company officials need to have protocols they follow to handle layoffs.
Domestic violence also can creep into the factory.
"If you're a disgruntled significant other and your beloved has left you and moved out and you can't find them, where's the one place you know you probably can find them? At work," he said.
Management needs to know if an employee has placed a restraining order on somebody, he said.
Companies need to document any workplace violence and have a written policy, Ridenour said. And companies need to talk to employees about how to respond to a workplace shooting.