Identifying and Preventing Potential Workplace Violence

Every year, approximately 2 million people in the US are victims of workplace violence resulting in nearly 1,000 deaths occurring annually.

Every year, approximately 2 million people in the US are victims of workplace violence resulting in nearly 1,000 deaths occurring annually.

Workplace violence covers a broad range of unacceptable behaviour from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide and refers to any act in which a worker is abused, threatened, intimidated, or assaulted at their place of employment.

Workplace violence, or threat of violence, may involve employees, clients, customers, or visitors and can occur at or outside the workplace or job site.

While there are currently no specific OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) standards that pertain to workplace violence, the General Duty Clause could apply and violence or threats of violence in all forms are unacceptable workplace behaviour.

OSHA General Duty Clause 5(a)(1) Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.

According to National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), there are four main types of workplace violence:

Type 1 | Criminal Intent. Violence that isn’t necessarily related specifically to the workers or the business, like robbery, shoplifting, trespassing, and acts of terrorism.
Type 2 | Customer, Client. Has a current or previous relationship with the business as a customer, client, patient, or student and turns to violence to express frustration or dissatisfaction.
Type 3 | Worker on Worker. A disgruntled employee or former employee who becomes violent or threatens other employees.
Type 4 | Personal Relationship. The perpetrator seeks out their intended victim at their place of work.

Examples of workplace violence among co-workers include:

• verbal abuse, anger-related incidents
• sabotage, vandalism, property damage
• intimidation, threats (direct or indirect)
• physically aggressive acts
• pushing, physical assault
• psychological trauma
• harassment, stalking
• use of a weapon
• arson, rape, murder

While it might not be possible to accurately predict all episodes of workplace violence, it’s helpful if employees know the indicators and behaviours that might signal an increased risk for violence.

Particularly take note if there is a drastic change in behaviour, the frequency and intensity of behaviour becomes disruptive, or the person is exhibiting many of the warning behaviours (rather than just one or a few).

Warning signs may include:

• inability to manage anger including scowling, sneering, outbursts of swearing or slamming doors
• overreaction to company policies or persistent complaining about unfair treatment
• aggressive behaviour, exaggerated or violent gestures, clenched jaws, or fists
• unexplained absenteeism, change in behaviour or decline in job performance
• holds grudges and verbalizes wish that something bad happen to another person
• paranoia, increased mood swings, or erratic emotional responses
• depression, withdrawal, or suicidal comments
• repeated direct or veiled threats to harm others
• sudden and unpredictable change in energy level
• persistent, unwanted romantic interest in a co-worker
• consistently and/or aggressively violating personal space
• obsession with weapons
• excessive use of alcohol or drugs
• poor personal hygiene or signs of extreme fatigue

These situations may cause issues with identifying potential future workplace violence.

Employees or management may mistake or ignore warning signs of violent tendencies because they believe that it is none of their business, the indicators don’t seem to add up to anything worth reporting, or the behaviour is excused as being typically characteristic for that person.

Workers may react on fear and incorrectly profile someone as a potentially violent person based on religion or appearance when there were no actual warning signs observed.

Employees may not know the procedure to follow or where to go to get help in making determinations regarding real and potential risks.

Ideally, there will be a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that covers all workers, contractors, visitors, and anyone who may encounter company personnel. It is critical that all workers know where to find and understand their organization’s health and safety program, including any workplace violence prevention and reporting policies.

If any employee is concerned about a co-worker, or any other person, who shows some or many of the warning signs, they should act by reporting concerns to a supervisor or to the HR department. All claims of potential or actual workplace violence should be confidential, taken seriously and investigated promptly.

If you are ever concerned a situation at work may become violent, immediately alert your supervisor, and follow your organisation’s reporting procedures, if you have time to do so. If you cannot quickly exit the area, attempt to de-escalate the situation until help and security can arrive to assist. Stay calm and listen, avoid arguing and use a sincere tone of voice. If the person has threatened physical violence, slowly back away toward a door and try to exit safely.

Using Technology

Incident Management and workplace safety solutions provide the means for users to raise alerts in the event of an incident. These alerts are instantly escalated to emergency contacts and key stakeholders – allowing for appropriate action to be taken and emergency services to respond fast. The platforms often also provide the means for its users to report incidents anonymously, giving management valuable insight into the risks their workforce take, and highlighting vulnerabilities within their operations.

To learn how the Locate Global application aids organisations in managing the risks of workplace violence visit