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Preventing Workplace Violence

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SAN BERNARDINO

Local Professor Offers Advice on Steps To Avoid Incidents

Frightened workers scatter, police officers crouch behind squad cars as an angry employee roams the office with a loaded weapon. Americans have become all too familiar with the scenario as incidents of workplace violence occur around the country.

However, Dr. David Sellen, a professor at Argosy University/Inland Empire, says work-related homicides are less common than other forms of workplace violence. "Rape and physical assaults are more common," he said. "But they don't get the attention of the media."

Sellen, a professor in Argosy University's department of Psychology, teaches courses such as psychodynamics, counseling and interview techniques. He has a law degree from Southwestern University, Los Angeles, and a doctorate in Neuropsychology from University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

Sellen works with law enforcement agencies in Critical Incident Debriefing, where psychologists help victims of violent acts normalize their feelings. He says that workplace shootings are often caused by a combination of events.

"These situations include a triggering event, such as a job termination, interpersonal trauma, such as depression, stress or substance abuse, and an unprepared workplace environment," he says.  "Office buildings are often less prepared for violent acts than courthouses and police stations which often have security."

The typical workplace shooter is more often male than female, has a history of violence, tends to be withdrawn and a loner. Other signs include antagonistic and obsessive behavior and career frustration. Workers are also under additional pressure because of the lack of stability in today's workplace.

"People tend to feel less secure in their jobs because of the way the economy has changed," Sellen said. "The average person is likely to see at least three major job changes in their lifetime and most people are not prepared. People tend to think the employer will take care of them."

Failing to prevent and protect workers from workplace violence is extremely expensive for American companies. Sellen estimates workplace violence-related lawsuits cost American employers about $500 million annually. Faced with these rising costs, more companies are being proactive in training workers to prevent and identify potentially violent situations.

"Ever since 9-11, more companies have started offering training to help employees address grievances and to defuse situations," he said.  "Many companies now offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which offer free counseling for employees who are facing personal problems."

Sellen said Cal/OHSA, which is responsible for enforcing workplace safety laws in California, has strong guidelines for companies on creating a violence free workplace. They also suggest companies have a workplace violence prevention policy and committee. Cal/OHSA also gives recommendations on how employees can report potentially violent situations to the company's human resources department.

Sellen says workplace violence is preventable if companies take a more hands-on approach.

He offers these suggestions:

• Companies need to ensure that employees have workplace violence prevention training.

• Companies need to have an open line of communication to the supervisor so threats or strange behavior can be reported.

• Employees need to be active listeners. No threat should be taken lightly. Any threat should be reported to the Human Resources director or the supervisor.

• Employers need to make sure that employees have a venue to handle their grievances.

• Companies need to do in-depth background checks to screen out employees with violent histories.

• Companies planning to do layoffs can prepare employees for the change by offering counseling, career training and letters of recommendations.

For more information about Argosy University/Inland Empire, call (909) 915-3800 or go to http://www.argosyu.edu/inlandempire. For more information on Cal/OHSA recommendations to prevent workplace violence, go to http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh


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