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Workplace violence broader than 'going postal,' Washington County deputy says

April 11, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Scenes from a shootout between police and a group of teenage criminals played on the screen as roughly 20 members of the Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) watched in silence.

After the video was over, Washington County Deputy Dan Watson turned to the crowd.

"Is this workplace violence?" Watson asked.

Watson, who was the guest speaker at the LEPC's semi-annual meeting Thursday morning, used the video to make a point about violence at work.

"People think about it as just outbursts or 'going postal,' but workplace violence is very broad," Watson said.

Watson said violence in the workplace can include physical assaults but also encompasses threats, verbal abuse and sexual harassment.

He said obscene phone calls and intimidation by superiors also count as workplace violence.

"Intimidation is a form of physical control and it's a form of violence," Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore said.

Watson broke workplace violence into four categories; violence by strangers, customers, coworkers and personal relations.

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He said violence by strangers and customers can be best prevented by safe work practices, such as never walking out of the office alone at night and knowing what goes on outside of your building.

The best way to deter violence from coworkers, Watson said, is to set clear workplace policies and enforce them with zero tolerance.

Watson also offered some general tips, such as making eye contact with everyone you pass and communicating as much as possible with coworkers.

"If we know our buddy or coworker is having trouble at home, should I talk to him? Absolutely," said Watson, who noted that family problems often result in outbursts at work.

In addition, Watson said employers should take all threats seriously, even those made in a seemingly joking manner.

"We get calls all the time after employees make threats that employers used to just let go. You can't let these things go anymore," Mullendore said.

The sheriff's department offers some services to help prevent workplace violence, including security surveys and presentations.

The LEPC is a group comprised of EMS personnel, firefighters, police, hospital workers, health department officials, Red Cross officials and others to help prepare people for emergencies.

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