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Safety & Health: Workplace Violence

Recent mass shootings around the United States have, as they often do, revived conversations about the Second Amendment, gun laws and mental health. For public safety, these conversation inevitably lead to talk about active-shooter training, interagency communication, incident management and the age-old question about the scene security when weapons are involved.

However, we should also consider our organizations’ policies, procedures and practices with regard to the entire spectrum of workplace violence. For us, workplace violence is closer and potentially more prevalent than we may think.

The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime indicates there are four distinct types of workplace violence:

  • Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime
  • Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates or any others for whom an organization provides services
  • Violence against coworkers, supervisors or managers by a present or former employee.
  • Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—an abusive spouse or domestic partner

Those of us in the fire and emergency service, both on the operations and the administrative sides of our organizations, must be aware that workplace violence is an issue in ever workplace, including fire/rescue and EMS.

The fire and emergency service will often respond to type-1 situations in their fire or EMS roles as a part of their normal course of business. These incident in many cases are the safest for fire/rescue personnel, given that the violence has in many case already occurred and they’ve come to deal with the consequences of that violence.

With respect to type-2, while fire/rescue organizations tend to be highly respected and often viewed as the best services governments provide, the same isn’t always the perception of government in general. Many people have negative thoughts and feeling about the role of government; in some cases, a distain for its very existence that can lead to them lashing out against government workers.

According to the U. S. Department of Justice, from 2002 to 2011, about 96% of workplace violence against government employees was against state, county and local employees who made up 81% of the total government workforce.

Though many departments, particular those that are more community reflective and diverse, have worked to decrease incidents of harassment, practical joking and other forms of what are in essence bullying behavior, some organizations still struggle with it.

What in generations past may have been considered a joke is now ending up in a type-3 incident in the form of a conflict among coworkers or even a horrific situation such as the one in Jackson, Miss., in 1996 where a firefighter murdered four of his colleagues at a fire station. Anecdotal evidence suggests that bully behavior may have been a factor in that case.

Type-4 incidents can easily spill over to a fire station, given that the close, family-like atmosphere and 24-hour work shifts can bring employees in closer proximity to domestic situations that might not happen in other types of working arrangements. Station officers should consider station plans to address potential situations and be open to conversation with members that might be dealing with domestic situations.

Workplace violence is a potential issue in any workplace. No industry or individual is exempt. Fire and emergency service organizations should add this to the list of hazards that they could be exposed to and develop plans and procedures to respond, should they be faced with this type of challenge. The health, safety and survival of you and members of your organization may depend on it.

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