Protecting Teens From Workplace Violence

July 30, 2014
Raquelle Solon
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

Several recent events have reminded me of my blog post The Forgotten Workforce, where I encouraged employers to remember teenagers, young adults, and temporary workers. These workers are often the last to receive training on handling potentially violent situations such as robberies or assaults, but ironically are often in positions of the most risk. What has brought this all to mind is reading #IHaveRights—Protecting Teens at Work by OSHA administrator Dr. David Michaels, as well as my sister being robbed during her evening shift at a small bakery.

The article by Dr. Michaels focuses on the need for violence prevention and response training for the under-25 workforce. These are individuals who are often working first jobs, summer jobs, and make-enough-money-to-eat-while-in-college jobs. They are often in high-risk situations because they typically are handling cash, working alone, scheduled early-morning or late-night shifts, or selling goods or services, etc.

As I mentioned previously, my first experience of workplace violence was when I was 16 years old and assaulted at the cash register of the pizza joint I worked in. What I didn’t get into detail about during my last post was that I was actually at a greater risk of assault when I was 14 and working at a local donut shop. This is because I was often left in charge of my shift (worked alone) both early in the morning and late at night, handling cash and providing goods. Neither of these jobs prepared me—or even discussed—what to do in case of assault, theft, or robbery.

A couple weeks ago, my youngest sister was unfortunate enough to be working the night that an unknown individual decided that her location would be an easy target for some quick cash. Fortunately, my sister was not injured and used her quick thinking and intuitive senses (gut reaction) to keep herself safe during this situation. Her orientation hadn’t included any violence prevention or response procedures training. I am not surprised. Training in violence prevention and response, along with what to do in emergency situations, is often a luxury versus an organizational commitment to a lot of small businesses and large corporate entities alike.

Robbery is a violent crime. Often the threat of harm—either stated or implied—is accompanied by a weapon or the insinuation of a weapon’s presence. According to the FBI’s most recent data, in 2010 of all robberies, 2.3% occurred in gas or service stations, 5.2% occurred in convenience stores, 2.2% occurred in banks, and a whopping 16.6% occurred in miscellaneous business locations (this does not include street/highway—strong arm, residential, or commercial house). That’s a lot of potential for people to get hurt and for things to go wrong. This is especially true when over 15% of total workplace fatalities in the US were the result of assault or violent acts. Over 26% of those occurred in retail trades (2007 BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries).

I often hear in my conversations with prospective clients that training funds have been cut, or that training’s been put on the back burner, or that there’s no justification for violence prevention training because “it’s never happened here.”

No one wants an incident to happen, but often, someone has to get hurt, or there has to be a large monetary workers’ compensation claim or lawsuit before training in how to prevent, recognize, and respond to violence becomes a justifiable expense.

This mentality has to change. As Dr. Michaels stressed, we need to focus on implementing training with the next generation to help keep them safe in their workplaces—not only from slips, trips, and falls, but from the very real-life hazard of violence in the workplace.

Some studies estimate the total cost of fatal and non-fatal violence in the workplace to be $450 million in workers’ compensation. That’s just the compensation claims filed and approved. It doesn’t account for the hidden costs of workplace violence such as lost time from work due to stress and anxiety, low employee morale, or high turnover. The cost of empowering your employees through a comprehensive violence prevention program can surely be justified when we take a step back and look at the big-picture overall costs.

Call me at 800.787.5166 to discuss possible solutions to preventing and handling disrespect, verbal assault, and even physical violence in your workplace. Take a proactive step today to protect your most important asset—the people who work for you.

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