By Jim Kendall
This column originally appeared in the February 1, 2016 Daily Herald
Workplace safety – or, in today’s not quite so benign context, the possibility of workplace violence – likely isn’t something most entrepreneurs think about.
Maybe we should: Although OSHA, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, estimates that 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year, workplace safety issues apparently can have a bottom-line impact without actual confrontation.
It’s a comfort thing.
Russ Riendeau, a behavioral psychologist and successful entrepreneur who in late 2014 sold his Barrington search business to Chicago-based Jobplex Inc., where he is a partner, pays attention to productivity trends, connecting worker concerns about potential violence to the bottom line.
The workforce, Riendeau writes in ”Personal Protection & Fear in the Workplace,” a paper posted last month on LinkedIn, “is stressed, anxious and distracted (by) the constant barrage of media coverage of violence in the workplace and public spaces. . .The toll stress takes on workplace productivity, concentration levels (and) wellness. . . is costly to organizations (and). . .exhausting for managers and employees.”
Business owners “have some responsibility to keep the workplace safe,” says Jennifer Adams Murphy, shareholder and senior attorney at law firm Wessell Sherman’s St. Charles office. Yet keeping the workplace safe isn’t necessarily easy.
Aside from assuring that machinery and other equipment operate as they should, safety issues can be hard to define. Fires, tornadoes and floods make the list. But so does potentially dangerous spillover from an employee domestic issue, a hot sports discussion or a neighborhood incident that works its way into your parking lot.
Awareness helps. “Each business has its own circumstances,” says Roy Bethge, deputy chief of the Buffalo Grove Police Department. “Understand your environment. The geography. The neighborhood.
“There is no one right answer to what a business should do” when it comes to employee safety. “There are no guarantees.”
There are safety steps to take, however. If training seems appropriate, Bethge suggests talking to your local police department. Buffalo Grove’s department, for example, provides programs on crime prevention and personal safety.
“We want to increase people’s awareness,” Bethge says. “If this happens, what would I do?”
Depending on circumstances, Murphy suggests such defensive protections as a silent alarm activated by a button that can be pushed “when someone comes in with violent intentions; changing locks if a termination has gone poorly; or keeping outside access doors locked until visitors can be identified.”
Behavior guidelines published in the employee handbook help, too, Murphy says.
OSHA suggests such proactive steps as safety education programs; a requirement that field staff keep a designated contact person informed of their whereabouts during the work day; and perhaps a buddy system for employees such as healthcare and social service workers.
Riendeau’s own suggestions include awareness of escape routes for potentially dangerous incidents that range from fire to active shooter; workshops that teach basic personal protection; and backing into parking lot spaces so you can pull out more quickly if necessary.