Saturday 16 February 2013

Reducing the Risk of Workplace Violence

Over the years, efforts have been made to establish Industrial Estate System (IES) in Nigeria. By this development, large number of hectares of land is set aside, developed and stuffed with amenities such as water, light and roads so that industrialists can conveniently operate from there at cheaper rate to the economy.

Apart from concentrating facilities in such areas for the convenience of the industries, security is assumed to be provided for protection of company assets to maximize profit. Most of such places are fenced round, huge gates are installed, guards and police dogs are planted at the entry points to control intrusions and so on. In some places, the level of security has been increased to include outreach communications, police posts, strike forces, close circuit televisions (CCTV) system, etc.

Some of the prominent industrial estates in Nigeria established years ago include the Trans-Amadi Industrial Estate in Port Harcourt, Ikeja Industrial Estate in Lagos, Ekulu Industrial Estate in Enugu, etc.

Of late, Nigeria began to experiment with the Free Trade Zone concept which is aimed at creating an industrial zone with international conditions of manufacture. The Calabar Export Processing Zone in Cross Rivers State became a pioneer zone in this regard while the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone in Eleme, Rivers State was created in terms of import facilitation and manufacture of support products either for local oil and gas consumption or for export to the African region.

With over 192 multinational companies and government agencies operating in Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone territory including the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Nigerian Custom Service (NCS) and still counting, there have been constant reports of security breaches, skirmishes and threats attracting attentions of both local and international stakeholders.

The attempt to poll companies in one location as in the estate system has however brought its own peculiar problems especially in terms of security. As presence of banks often attracts robbers and violent criminals, the presence of oil and gas based multinational corporations who play their games in hard currencies must be expected to draw the nefarious attention of most criminals and hoodlums from within and without.

The workers in the Free Zone are used to being blocked most often on their way to work; gun-toting youths have often jumped from the corners to disrupt job processes and hold up those either going to work or going to carryout assigned functions.

The nearness of the Free Zone to the Onne Ports and Sea has also increased the Estate’s vulnerability rating; and any serious risk evaluation exercise would indicate high premiums. The long standing feud between communities of Eleme and Okrika is another factor worthy of serious security consideration.

Although employers are under obligation to prevent workplace violence and a legal and ethical duty to promote a work environment free from threats and violence, knowing to protect yourself, your property and your asset is crucial. In this age when anything can happen, anywhere, at anytime, it is important we get prepared, individually and collectively, to handle any situation. It takes real awareness of planning and diligence to stay on task and remain alive. The workplace is not only becoming more risky due to threats from outside but also as a result of threats from members of the workforce.


Effects of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence affects society as a whole. The economic cost which is difficult to measure with any precision is certainly substantial for employers. Violence can lead to poor morale and a poor image for the company, making it difficult to recruit and keep qualified staff. It can also mean extra cost with absenteeism, high insurance premiums and compensation payments.

To the employees, workplace violence can cause pains, distress and even disability or death. Physical attacks are obviously dangerous but serious and persistent verbal abuse or threats can also damage employee’s health through anxiety or stress. The ripples created by a single unfortunate act of violence can go beyond what is done to a particular victim to also damage trust and sense of security that affects every worker on the job.

In other words, the effects of violence do not disappear after the violent act and the harm is not only to the person attacked. Both the victim and other employees not directly affected by the crime, disaster or troubling incident may deserved counseling, help, comfort, information, and support to cushion the short and long term psychological trauma, fear of returning to work, changes in relationships with co-workers and family feelings of incompetence, guilt, powerlessness and fear of criticism by supervisors or managers.   

Prevention is better than Cure

Unfortunately, as with other security risks, it is easier to persuade Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) to focus on the problem after a violent act has taken place than it is to get them to act before anything has happened. In any company, large or small, it is advisable to spot potential dangers and defuse them before violence develops. To manage workplace violence, it is better for management to plan for crisis, put appropriate policies, practices and structures to deal with them in place. These policies should incorporate pre-employment screening procedure, workplace culture, organizational settings, physical work environment, trade unions, procedure for dealing with victims and perpetrators, forging alliances and dissemination of best practices among the company publics.


What is Workplace Violence

When a person is abused, threatened, or assaulted or subjected to other abusive behavior in circumstances relating to work it is referred to as workplace violence. The workplace could be a shop, factory, hospital, filling station, office, bank, oilrig, school and so on.

Workplace violence which takes the form of assault, attack, threat to person or property, abuse, harassment, bulling, mobbing etc. can be categorized into the following:

1.      Violence acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace – complete outsiders like armed robbery.

2.      Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, subjects, inmates or any other person for which an organization provides goods/services.

3.      Violence against co-workers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee or group of employees.

4.      Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there but has a personal relationship with an employee – an abusive spouse, a domestic partner, a community member and so on.

Early this year, an Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Hazeem Shehu attached to Ajagba Divisional Police Station in Irele, Ondo State shot dead Inspector Adelakun Lawal at a beer palour in Ondo town after engaging each other in an argument that degenerated into hot verbal assaults.

Another example of fatal workplace violence is the havoc created by Adam Lanza, aged 20, in the USA on December 14, 2012. Reports have it that the young man first killed his mother at their shared home before taking her guns and driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, where he killed 20 school children aged six and seven, along with six adults, including four teachers, the Principal and the School Psychologist. Two others were injured in the attack. He then took his own life with one of the handguns as police arrived at the School

In 2012 alone, at least 67 journalists were killed globally in direct relation to their work. Recently, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the global labor group revealed that 15 million children work in Nigeria often in dangerous jobs, and many live in fear of violence from police and employers.

Sexual harassment is common place occurrence in Nigeria. Most sexual harassment results from sexual lust or passion. The history of our entertainment industry, manufacturing and service institutions, schools and ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) etc. is replete with stories of sexual harassments. Suan Akande, a popular model captured this vividly, “I am very much aware that some models are victims of sexual harassment”. She reiterated that it is desperate models that “get sexually harassed”.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment is one aspects of workplace violence that is on the rise, yet hardly reported due to socio-cultural and economic implications. The twist in the celebrated romance case involving Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a then 21-year-old unpaid intern is a living example of big clouds surrounding sexual harassment at workplace. Apart from Lewinsky refuting having sexual relationship with Clinton on oath, Clinton on his part publicly denied the allegation, saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky”.

Reports also indicate that over 2 million workplace assaults occurred in Nigeria yearly. Preceding the two million workplace assaults annually are six million instances of employees being verbally threatened.

Causes of Workplace Violence

Several factors have been advanced as causes of workplace violence. However, the most common reasons are disgruntled past or present employees that have stressfully gone awry due to redundancy layoffs;  dissatisfied customer/client angered at the quality of service or delay/denial of service;  host community/company relations problem leading to a spillover to workplace, dissatisfied workforce, corruption and passion among others.

Workers everywhere experience acts of workplace violence. Hostilities such as physical and verbal assaults, sexual harassment, coercion and intimidation, also constitute acts of workplace violence. The way and manner you response to an act of violence determines the outcome.

In Case of an Act of Violence

1.      Defuse the Anger: Endeavour to help defuse the person’s anger so that he/she can cool down and talk calmly and rationally.

2.      Maintain your Composure: Do not panic, be calm and unshaken.

3.      Motion for Help: Signal for help from a coworker who can contact management, security, the police or paramedics.

4.      Listen Attentively: Hostile individuals who feel that they have your attention are sometimes less likely to act out physically.

5.      Maintain Eye Contact: This also helps to calm the person down because the individual feels that he/she has your attention.  

6.      Be Polite: Be courteous and patient until help arrives. Be slow and friendly in your speech and act to buy time and space.

7.       Follow Instructions: If the person is threatening you with a weapon, follow his/her instructions and stall for time.

8.      Do not be Aggressive: Never try to intercept the weapon or act aggressively against the individual. Do not risk harm to yourself or others.   

Warning Signs of Violence

The following are some warning signs of workplace violence:

Ø  Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees.

Ø  Statements indicating desperation over family, finances, or other problems.

Ø  Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior.

Ø  Direct or veiled threats of harm.

Ø  Reference to weapons.


Report Threats

Talk to your immediate boss as soon as you observe unusual behavior in others. Never underestimate the potential for a coworker to act out violently. Being proactive can help prevent an incident of workplace violence. Be mindful of the fact that no crime against the person or property can be carried out without premeditation. Certain indications or utterances should trigger your concern for the safety of your life.

When a coworker displays violent tendencies reporting is one of the best ways to prevent a workplace tragedy. Unfortunately, many workers prefer to ignore their instincts and disregard their fears of a coworker possibly turning violent.

Many workers also do not usually believe that a coworker’s empty threat may be carried out until it is too late. Instances abound where after an incident you will hear the offender’s coworkers say, “I know for long that he will do something stupid”. Or, “I know he was a tragedy waiting to happen”. Or, “He said it but I never believe he can go that far”. But, the harm has been done.

There is always a lot of warning signals; unfortunately, many employees fizzle out when it comes to reporting the warning signals to management for fear of retaliation by the suspected coworker. Report the threat and err in caution. Take that threat serious and reduce the risk of being victimized by reporting the threats to appropriate authority for thorough investigation and solution bearing in mind that:  

1.      When the threats are accompanied by specific plans to carry them, they are serious,

2.      When the threats of violence are directed at, or include, members of the intended victim’s family, they are serious,   

3.      And that threatening gestures also add power and credibility to verbal threats.

It is advisable to take a threat seriously than not. Irrespective of the circumstances of the person threatening (family problem, financial crisis, history of mental illness) threats should not be tolerated.  

In reporting threats endeavor to state precisely the When, Where, and at what Time the threat was given or received and the exact wording of the threat, if possible. Your initial response to the threat is also essential as well as whether there has ever been previous incidents of violence involving the person threatening or whether he/she has ever made any other threats in previous employment(s).

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