With millions of Americans victimized by workplace violence, the first step in prevention includes recognizing signs of stress among employees. That’s the opening advice from officials for the Illinois Department of Labor. Step two includes ensuring employers have established plans for responding when violence occurs, they add.

“Protecting employees on the job goes beyond worksite hazards. Unfortunately, this includes protection from violence and other outside threats,” says director Michael Kleinik.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the workplace.” The administration breaks workplace violence into four categories: criminal intent, customer-client, worker-on-worker, and personal relationship.

According to Illinois Department of Labor officials, workplace violence is now one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. For this reason, “There are steps that should be taken to keep employees informed and aware of the warning signs to look for in the workplace,” explains Illinois OSHA division manager Brandy Lozosky. “Employers should also implement a violence prevention program.”

According to OSHA, establishing a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence is the best protection, but other precautions include:

– Providing safety education for employees to ensure they know what conduct is unacceptable, what to do if they witness or experience such conduct and how to protect themselves;
– Securing the workplace through surveillance cameras, proper lighting, key or badge entry and guards to help alleviate possible incidents;
– Encouraging employees to alert supervisors to any concerns about erratic or potentially dangerous behavior among coworkers, as well as any other safety issue they believe could lead to violence; and
– Providing a buddy system or escort service for those who need it in potentially dangerous situations.

In addition to employee well-being and safety, the Department of Justice and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests there are economic costs for workplace violence as well. Victims miss 1.8 million days of work each year, costing an estimated $121 billion.

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