BURR RIDGE, Ill. - With a down economy, customary tensions at a workplace can be magnified, making now a vital time for those in the construction industry to analyze the potential for workplace violence, and how to prevent it.

Awareness and communication are vital, said Rick Maltz, president of the Maltz Group. He recently led a class at the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago’s Construction Education Institute.

“We read too many times after workplace violence situations occur, people say, ‘I didn’t think they were serious,’ or, ‘I heard them talking about doing something,’” Maltz said.

“Having a clearly defined plan to combat and identify workplace violence is a must,” said Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of MCA Chicago. “The MCA is making materials available to our contractor members to help them keep every jobsite safe.”

“Workplace violence - whether it is physical, emotional or psychological harm - is damaging on multiple levels in the workplace. It can deeply harm employees and wreaks havoc on workplace morale, which in turn decreases productivity. Effective strategies for dealing with workplace violence shows employees two things: to the perpetrators it shows that such behavior will not be tolerated; to the victims it shows that their leaders fully support them.”

A general definition of workplace violence is this, Maltz said:

“Any intentional conduct in the workplace toward any individual that alarms, harasses, threatens, or injures the individual. Any conduct that arouses fear, hostility, intimidation, or fear of harm on the part of an associate for his/her personal safety, or the safety of other associates, family, friends, or property. Myths about workplace violence include: people suddenly snap, most situations will resolve themselves, and all we need to know is how to recognize violent persons and the problem is solved.”

Maltz also shared some general statistics on workplace violence.

One out of six United States workers, or 16 percent, was so angered by a coworker during the past year that he or she felt like striking the coworker, but did not.

Nearly one-fifth of United States workers say they are aware of a threat or verbal intimidation and 11 percent of an assault or violent act at work, but fewer than one-half say their workplace offers workplace violence training.

Specifically in the construction industry, the down economy creates financial anxiety for employees and employers, according to the Laborer’s Health and Safety Fund of North America. Lack of understanding in diverse workplaces can also lead to misunderstanding and hostility.

These factors, the laborer’s fund says, can “generate stress and increase the potential for fighting, verbal abuse, threats, robbery, and malicious damage to property of employees, clients, or the business. Left unaddressed, any of these behaviors and activities can lead to more serious incidents…” The fund offers a workplace safety program online at www.lhsfna.org.

Maltz suggested:

• Enact training on the early warning signs of workplace violence. The training should answer the question, “What is a threat?”

• Create a reporting policy. The workforce is the best resource for information. Create an environment where employees feel safe reporting threatening words and behaviors, including on social media or with those involving domestic situations. “It can be an open door policy or a hotline,” Maltz said. “The more information a company can get, the better.”

• Put a threat management team in place. This team will analyze threats as they emerge, getting a read on them by analyzing the background of the person making the threat, the likelihood of the person following through on the threat, and what the response should be, including calling the police.

“Is it someone who lost their job? Someone who is verbally abusive and aggressive? Do they make threats? Is there any use of alcohol or drugs? Do they have aggressive outbursts? People will jokingly make threats, but be clear there is zero tolerance and that type of attitude is not allowed,” Maltz said.

For more information about the courses offered by MCA Chicago’s Construction Education Institute, visit www.mca.org.

Publication date:06/06/2011