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Keep Violence Out with Effective Prevention Strategies

Original article https://safetydailyadvisor.blr.com

By Chris Kilbourne

With so much talk about guns and violence, it natural that employers are giving more thought than usual to workplace violence. Here are some prevention tips from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which has had to deal with its share of workplace violence over the years.

OSHA defines workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, customers, visitors, and others.

Assessing possible risks is an important early step in violence prevention. One way to do this is to look at possible sources of violence: strangers, customers, and employees or their associates.

Violence from Strangers

Violence from strangers is the most deadly form of workplace violence. It usually accompanies robbery. People planning robberies usually select their targets carefully and bring their weapons with them. Employees who work into the evening are particularly vulnerable to this type of workplace violence and can face some of the same risks on leaving the workplace or on their way home.

Preventive strategies may include:

  • Good lighting of various types
  • Perimeter security such as badging, visitor screening, and controlled access to buildings
  • Employee training so that everyone can support the security staff by following procedures and being alert for suspicious people or behaviors

Violence from Customers

Violence from customers is usually spontaneous and therefore less likely to be lethal. Preventive strategies include workplace design, carefully developed safety and security procedures, and employee awareness and prevention training.

Violence from Employees

Violence from employees or their close associates and violence from former employees is the most varied form of workplace violence. It can range from shoving or punching to homicide. It can grow out of workplace disputes or out of personal or emotional issues such as the end of a romantic relationship.

Preventive measures may include good leadership principles such as fairness, open communication, and respect for employees. It’s also important to have an environment in which employees feel safe to approach supervisors, security staff, or HR if they feel afraid for any reason.

Warning Signs

Unfortunately, the best prevention strategies cannot always prevent violence, which means supervisors and employees throughout the workplace must be able to recognize warning signs. For example:

  • An employee says or hints that he or she might harm someone. People contemplating violence sometimes broadcast their intentions. Even if statements seem to be made in jest, employees need to understand that such jokes are not appropriate.
  • A worker appears to be frightened of someone else. That person feeling fear could be an employee or a supervisor. For example, a supervisor could be anxious about counseling or disciplining an employee.
  • An employee might seem afraid after talking with an irate ex-spouse over the phone.
  • An employee might frighten another employee with inappropriate talk about weapons.
  • A normally dependable employee may make excuses to avoid seeing a particular customer.

These situations should make alarm bells go off in your mind. You can follow up on your initial response by observing the situation more closely, gathering additional information, and seeking professional advice, if necessary.


OPM explains that response to threats or violent incidents must vary to fit the situation, but essentially there are three major tasks:

  • Evaluate the situation more extensively.
  • Develop and execute a plan for responding to it.
  • Address safety issues at every stage in the process.

As soon as possible, you and your advisors need to stabilize the situation in a way that preserves safety. This might involve barring a customer or employee from the building temporarily or moving a threatened employee temporarily to a safer place.

Once the immediate danger has passed, you need to move on to investigate the situation, collect statements and other documentation, and develop a long-term plan. The long-term plan may involve personnel actions, legal measures, or involvement of law enforcement organizations.