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With vigilance, much workplace violence preventable, panelists say

With vigilance, much workplace violence preventable, panelists say

NEW YORK — Workplace violence is a growing problem in the U.S, yet many of the incidents could be prevented, a group of experts said Wednesday.

“When we read post-incident reports, most of the post-incident reports make it very clear that most of these incidents were preventable,” said Rick Shaw, CEO of Awareity Inc. in Lincoln, Neb. Mr. Shaw spoke as part of a panel Thursday on Workplace Violence: The Risks & How to Mitigate Them at Business Insurance's 2014 Risk Management Summit in New York.

Costs of workplace violence to employers include not only employee or customer injuries or loss of life but financial losses and reputation damage, panel members said.

“Each year approximately two million people in the U.S. are victims of workplace violence,” said Debbie Michel, executive vice president, national insurance and general manager, major accounts at Liberty Mutual Holding Co. Inc. in Boston.

While workplace shootings get most of the media attention, data suggests a larger problem is non-fatal injuries resulting from assaults, Ms. Michel said. Such incidents make up 2% of workplace lost-time injuries, and the number is growing, she said.

Employers might be held liable for workplace violence injuries when the assault occurs in the scope of employment or the employer could have been expected to foresee the risk, Ms. Michel said. “It's a critical concern that I think every risk manager and organization needs to take seriously,” she said.

“Pre-incident indicators existed in nearly every one of these incidents or tragedies,” Mr. Shaw said, but a failure to recognize and share those indicators made it impossible to prevent them.


Anonymous reporting platforms for sharing concerns and equipment to investigate or share assessments of possible workplace violence threats can help prevent such incidents, Mr. Shaw said.

Jeffrey R. Natterman, risk manager and associate senior counsel at the Johns Hopkins Hospital discussed a 2010 shooting incident at his facility involving the distraught son of a woman whose surgery resulted in complications. Mr. Natterman said that there had been signs pointing to the risks of violence, but those seeing them didn't share their concerns.

Since that time the hospital has instituted various policies and security measures intended to make patients, visitors and employees aware of expectations and how employees should respond to threats, Mr. Natterman said. “To train your staff on how to piece that together is something that's critically important,” he said.

Matt Dunning, associate editor at Business Insurance moderated the session.