5 Ways to Keep Violence out of the Workplace

by Jan Fletcher on November 12, 2012

Violence at the office? Don’t pooh-pooh the topic. Eleven percent of U.S. work-related fatalities in 2010 were homicides, according to the U.S. Labor Department [PDF].

As a small-business owner, you can help to reduce those numbers — and keep violence out of your workplace — by taking these five basic steps.

1. Pull back the welcome mat. Shoplifters may be aggravating, but they generally pose much less of a threat than criminals capable of an assault. One way to discourage loiterers of all kinds and lower your odds of an attack on the premises: Pay attention to landscaping. Erect physical obstacles and plant shrubbery, which give “cues about who belongs in the place and what they are allowed to do,” notes the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Or install fences and construct sidewalks, which send subliminal messages to would-be attackers that the property is privately owned and supervised. C.O.P.S. offers business owners additional suggestions in its publication Using Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in Problem-Solving [PDF].

2. Support a Business Watch program. This crime prevention program dates back to Colonial times. Business Watch members pledge to keep watch on neighboring businesses and to report any suspicious activity they witness to the police.

3. Ensure maximum visibility to deter attackers. Illuminate parking areas, keep shrubs trimmed below windowsills, and don’t put signs in windows that block more than 15 percent of the view. This advice comes from the city of Virginia Beach’s General Guidelines for Designing Safer Communities [PDF]. Parking lots often have numerous hiding spots that could harbor an attacker. Proper lighting is a must for restroom entrances and parking garages. Provide a clear view of the cash register from the street, too, as the public exposure may deter an armed robber.

4. Use the buddy system for openings, closings, and bank runs. The Mesa (Ariz.) Police Department advises businesses to never let just one employee [PDF] open or close an office or shop. Two people are essential. If anything inside the building appears amiss upon arrival, don’t go inside, even if you’re with another person. Instead, call the police, as the assailant(s) may still within. Change routes when making night drops at the bank, and vary the times in which deposits are made.

5. Prepare employees for what to do during a robbery. Make sure your staff understands the dangers of attempting to delay or thwart a thief. A back room with a door that cannot be unlocked from the outside provides a haven for employees during an armed robbery. Ask employees to greet every customer face-to-face; doing so increases the chances that they’ll be able to give police accurate descriptions of the assailant(s), if needed. And don’t forget to preserve evidence at the crime scene, notes the Portland (Ore.) Police Bureau’s publication A Guide to Robbery Prevention and Response to Robbery [PDF].