By Bernard Wainaina
CEO,Profarms Consultants®

I was sitting peacefully in my office attending to a client when I heard a big thump in an adjacent office where my colleague sits.

Then a scream that froze my mouth in mid sentence while trying to placate my now disturbed client.

Hastened footfalls of the receptionist who was clearly heading to my office only helped to heighten the tension.

A disgruntled spouse had turned up at our workplace.

Her husband,my professional colleague,had not turned up at their home for the last two weeks during the recent world cup matches.

Their were now having a violent peace-conference at his office.

While most people think of workplace violence
as “someone in the hallway with a loud mouth and a vendetta,”Security experts emphasize that it can take many forms – “from bullying to outbursts that take a physical turn to stalking to a disgruntled spouse showing up at the workplace and causing an issue.”

“When things that might seem small at first build up and aren’t addressed soon enough by an employer or an employee who might be experiencing them, that’s when things can take
a turn for the worse and end up being a real incident that makes the news,” he adds.

Based on his experience, my security officer asserts that programs aimed at addressing workplace violence should include the following

»A crisis plan – “You don’t need to have a 200-page binder,” He says.
“You just need to have a thoughtful plan that says, ‘If these things happen, what do we do?’”
Employers should treat potential acts of workplace violence as threats that are just as serious as natural disasters, cyber attacks, pandemics and power outages.

»A crisis team – “You have to have people who are going to take charge on a local level if there’s an act of workplace violence or a threat of workplace violence,”He explains.

“If something happens and no one knows who to go to or who’s going to take the lead, things
start breaking down.”

Typically, a worksite’s senior operations personnel are best-suited to lead the crisis team
(He recommends having more than one team leader for larger facilities), while the rest of the team will “come from all walks of life.”

Team members should be chosen based on criteria such as their leadership abilities and their availability (“are they in the office more times than not?”).

»Training – As is the case with any safety initiative,training is a key element in an employer’s efforts to address workplace violence.

“Probably the most important thing you can do to prevent workplace violence is to provide some awareness training to help employees know
what workplace violence is and how to recognize the signs and symptoms,” He says.

“That’s where the front lines of this issue really start – it’s employees knowing how to recognize when there could be a potential for workplace violence in any form, and knowing who to go to
when they see it.”

»Practicing – Periodically, the crisis team should conduct tabletop exercises to simulate incidents of workplace violence.
“It might start with a scenario where let’s say an
employee was terminated and he or she leaves the office yelling ‘you’re all going to pay for this,’ and it escalates into certain executives receiving threatening emails and calls, and then it escalates into that person coming on site
and demanding to talk to people, and then maybe it escalates into that person coming back with a weapon.”

Working through such a scenario helps the team identify gaps in the crisis plan and training, he explains, and it helps team members build confidence in their ability to
respond to a crisis.

“If you don’t practice, you’re falling
short of being able to handle it really, really well,”He says.

»An emergency messaging system – Good communication is essential in any crisis. But relying on a phone tree isn’t a viable communication strategy, he says, nor is
relying on your building (if you’re leasing) for critical information.

He recommends having a Web-based
communication system eg. Whatsapp group chat, that can send messages to employees via email, text or voice.

“If there’s a massive incident, a lot of times the cell towers get flooded, and voice messages won’t go through, but text messages will,”He says.

He also recommends having a system with
two-way messaging capability, so employees can indicate whether or not they’re OK.

One other thought from the Security officer: Leverage technology to help build your program.

“Whether you’re the safety director of a multinational corporation or you’re a law firm with 200 people, use technology to help you develop and communicate your workplace violence program,” he says.

“Having it in a binder or an employee code of conduct handbook just isn’t going to cut it.

There are some great Web-based platforms out there that can help you do this really easily without it being a full-time job.”

Work hard. Work safe. Discourage all forms of violence in your work place

“The African Story as told by Africans”.©African News Digest®