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Predictive analytics have become a part of our everyday lives. Companies use them to make marketing and delivery decisions, anticipate sales, reduce worker risk and much more.

Along with helping reduce risk through proactive maintenance and injury prevention, predictive analytics can also help prevent workplace violence. Workplace violence includes everything from homicide to threats of violence to property damage to sexual assaults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every week in the U.S. 20 workers are murdered and 18,000 are assaulted while at work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reports that every year, nearly 2 million Americans experience workplace violence. And the FBI estimates that incidents of workplace violence cost American companies $36 billion a year.

As big data and smart analytics become the norm, companies are starting to use predictive analytics to predict and prevent workplace violence.

Analyzing existing data

According to the FBI, roughly 80 percent of perpetrators of workplace violence are people who have only loose connections with the company, such as customers, domestic partners of employees or even strangers who seek to rob employees. Obviously, companies can’t screen these people like they would employees, but administrators can use existing documentation of incidents to find patterns of when and where workplace violence is most likely to occur. For example: Is violence more likely to happen at a certain time of day? Or while a worker is performing a particular task or working in a certain area?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workplace violence is most likely to occur in situations where money is being exchanged, alcohol is being served, employees are working a late shift, working alone, or dealing with unstable people (such as in the mental health field or law enforcement).

As these and other patterns emerge from data analysis, companies can modify policies, procedures and practices to take extra precautions in the situations where workplace violence is more likely to occur.

Background checks and risk assessment

The U.S. government is reforming its system of background checks to rely more on predictive analytics to anticipate insider threats. The new system will pull from more sources of public data—such as credit information, court judgments, marriages and divorces and driving history—which will give a more robust picture of the background of a potential employee.

While such extensive background checks may not be realistic or appropriate for every organization, companies should conduct some sort of background check while hiring. And while companies should be careful not to create an environment of suspicion, they should train employees to keep an eye out for some of the warning signs of potential violence: depression, threats, erratic behavior, outbursts, repeated references to weapons and more. If companies create an open atmosphere where employees can talk to supervisors if they feel concerned about or threatened by a co-worker, leaders may be able to reach out to the problematic employee and offer help before things reach a breaking point.

Data isn’t everything but used well it can help reduce workplace violence, preventing unnecessary risks and keeping employees safe to do their jobs well.

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