A 15-year-old student who was suspended for bringing a gun to school opens fire in a high school cafeteria in Springfield, OR...
An employee at the U.S. Foodservice, Inc. distribution center in Allentown, PA, earlier sent home for disciplinary reasons, returns to shoot a warehouse manager, seriously wounding two more supervisors in the process...
While such recent, highly publicized incidents underscore the toll violence takes on the American workplace, statistics show that non-fatal, day-to-day altercations occur more frequently and present businesses with a much more pressing problem.
For example, a 1997 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study recorded about 1,000 workplace bites, usually to a finger, hand or wrist; more than 2,000 squeezes, pinches, scratches and twists, mostly to the upper extremities; and nearly 10,000 hits, kicks and beatings to the head and torso.
It can happen when two divorced parents show up in a school cafeteria in the heat of a custody dispute; when a recently demoted employee becomes aggressive towards a supervisor; or even when a customer waiting in the service line loses it after having had a bad day. As non-discriminating as these incidents are, chances are, one will eventually find its way to your workplace.
The question is, will you be ready for it?
The fear of what could happen, in combination with the fact that foodservice organizations and their employees make easy targets for violence, is what’s prompting the industry to take more proactive steps to protecting both employees and customers.
By training workers to spot behavior that often precedes violent outbursts and by teaching them how to protect themselves in the midst of dangerous predicaments (see sidebars), FSDs are hoping they will be able to effectively prevent and defuse crisis situations before they snowball into more serious matters.
For example, an escalating number of verbal confrontations and physical assaults is what prompted administrators at Arizona State Hospital in Phoenix to mandate that all hospital employees participate in violence prevention training seminars, says J. Douglas Roill, general manager for this Sodexho Mariott Services managed account.
The hospital’s 8- to 12-hour courses teach employees that non-verbal communication skills and a non-threatening demeanor are the best weapons to have when confronting agitated individuals. Likewise, the courses use group activities and role-playing exercises to emphasize the importance of appropriate body language and the need to keep common office items, like clipboards and phone books, handy just in case they are needed in self-defense.
Similar workshops are also required of all line managers at a Fortune 100 company contacted for this article. Although these training seminars are not specific to foodservice, FSDs are in attendance and are required to enforce the concepts taught among their workers.
Avoiding volatile situations
Keeping employees out of harm’s way is the idea behind the Paradise Valley School System’s (Phoenix) zero tolerance for violence policy. It’s also the reason the district started offering similar workshops designed to bring about peaceful conflict resolution.
The same is true at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC, where, instead of taking an active role in breaking up altercations, employees are instructed to distance themselves from situations they perceive as being potentially volatile. Likewise, as an added means of protection, staffs at both Paradise Valley and ECU are instructed never to hesitate before dialing 9-1-1.
“We tell our front-line employees to keep their wits about them and not to try and break up student altercations. They’re not trained to do that,” says Teri Traaen, director of personnel for Paradise Valley Schools. “Our employees are there to provide a service, and it’s our job to make sure they don’t get hurt in the process.”
Experts agree that workplace security and protection starts in the hiring process with employers paying close attention to the applications submitted by job candidates.
“Employers can be much more selective when it comes to choosing their workers than they can be when they are attracting their customers,” Roill says. “And they should take every advantage of it.”