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Workplace Violence Prevention

Violence is not spontaneous, but a process. Learn to recognize the warning signs, flags and potential triggers as the process escalates.

Workplace violence is a growing risk for every organization. With today's socioeconomic pressures affecting much of the workforce, organizations are at risk for more liabilities and legal issues concerning workplace violence than ever before. While no company likes to believe workplace violence issues can occur at their organization, the fact is that workplace violence incidents are on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics workplace violence 2010 fact sheet, workplace homicides accounted for 10 percent of all fatal work injuries. Statistics of workplace violence incidents are much larger, considering this figure does not account for non-fatal injuries and other forms of workplace violence; including harassment, intimidation and bullying.

  • Don't assume it can't happen at your workplace.
  • Pay attention to warning signs.
  • Understand your role in mitigating workplace violence.

Workplace violence, and the impact of these incidents, can be mitigated through the recognition of the impending signs of potential violent behavior and implementation of proper security measures that limit access. Research supports that the majority of incidents of workplace violence could have been avoided, or the impact limited, had people been properly educated and trained to detect and respond.

Although workplace violence poses a security risk and prevention and response programs should be put in place as a part of an organization's security program, internal workplace violence is more often a human resource issue, not only a physical security issue. It can best be prevented through early detection, effective reporting protocols, counseling and quick, decisive management intervention. Organizations seeking to prevent internal workplace violence must concentrate on pre- employment screening guidelines that prevent potentially violent people from being hired and policies and procedures that implement and communicate a"no-tolerance" policy with regards to threats and other implications of violent behavior. Moreover, the importance of educating employees regarding warning signs and providing a confidential reporting mechanism should not be ignored.

Communication/Awareness and Training

There is no absolute method to predict when a person will become violent, nor is there any single indicator. Likewise, the presence of more indicators does not necessarily correlate to a higher risk potential towards violence. Yet, if employees understand what to look for and understand their "duty" to observe and report suspicions, acts of violence can be mitigated. Educating employees empowers them to take control of their environment, and results in a culture that is more aware and prepared for potential workplace violence situations.

Employees should learn to identify that violence is not spontaneous, but a process–and to recognize the warning signs, flags and potential triggers as the process escalates–if they are to perform their critical observation and reporting roles. One or more of these warning signs may be displayed before a person becomes violent, but they may not necessarily indicate that an individual will become violent. A display of the signs on the following page should trigger concern, as they are usually exhibited by people experiencing problems.

Individual Behavioral Flags

  • Demonstrates low self-esteem
  • Considers themselves victims of injustice
  • Demonstrates a fascination with death, violence, war, weapons, etc.
  • Has some history of violence, demonstrates paranoia or other destructive behavior
  • Often is controlling or demanding
  • Is task, rather than people-oriented
  • Harbors persistent and inappropriate anger
  • Excessive tardiness
  • Reduced productivity
  • Any behavioral change – good or bad
  • Excessive use of excuses
  • Increasingly aggressive or violent mood swings

Potential Stimuli for Violent Behavior

  • Public humiliation in the workplace, i.e. passed over for promotion, making a critical error in a high-profile position, reprimanded in front of coworkers, or dismissal due to downsizing
  • Personal trauma, i.e. divorce or separation, death of a spouse or family member, or a severe illness

When attempting to de-escalate potentially violent situations, keep the following thoughts and suggestions in mind. These suggestions are to be used as a guideline only. The degree of success can significantly vary depending on the situation and involved individual(s).


  • Project calmness: move and speak slowly, quietly and confidently
  • Be an empathetic listener: encourage the person to talk and listen patiently
  • Focus your attention on the other person to let them know you are interested in what they have to say
  • Maintain a relaxed yet attentive posture and position yourself at a right angle rather than directly in front of the other person
  • Acknowledge the person's feelings. Indicate that you can see he or she is upset
  • Ask for small, specific favors such as asking the person to move to a quieter area
  • Establish ground rules if unreasonable behavior persists.Calmly describe the consequences of any violent behavior
  • Use delaying tactics which will give the person time to calm down; for example, offer a drink of water (in a disposable cup)
  • Be reassuring and point out choices; break big problems into smaller, more manageable problems
  • Accept criticism in a positive way. When a complaint might be true, use statements like "You're probably right" or "It was my fault." If the criticism seems unwarranted, ask clarifying questions
  • Ask for recommendations. Repeat back to him (or her) what you feel he/she is requesting of you
  • Arrange yourself so that a visitor cannot block your access to an exit

Do Not

  • Use styles of communication which generate hostility such as apathy, coldness, condescension, going strictly by the rules or giving the run-around
  • Reject all of the person's demands from the start
  • Use challenging body language or stances such as standing directly opposite someone, hands on hips or crossing your arms
  • Engage in physical contact, finger pointing or long periods of fixed eye contact
  • Make sudden movements which can be seen as threatening; note the tone, volume and rate of your speech
  • Challenge, threaten, or dare the individual; never belittle the person or make him/her feel foolish
  • Criticize or act impatiently towards the agitated individual
  • Attempt to bargain with a threatening individual
  • Try to make the situation seem less serious than it is
  • Make false statements or promises you cannot keep
  • Try to impart a lot of technical or complicated information when emotions are high
  • Take sides or agree with distortions
  • Invade the individual's personal space; make sure there is 3' to 6' between you and the person

About U.S. Security Associates

U.S. Security Associates (USA) is one of North America's largest security companies, with 160 locally-responsive offices providing premier national security services and global consulting and investigations to customers in a range of industries. Recognized for world class customer service, leading-edge technology, and an enterprise approach to risk management, USA offers optimized security solutions to meet specific customer needs. USA is committed to building quality security and risk management programs that are Safe. Secure. Friendly.® The Securing Knowledge series is part of the extensive and growing library of reference and training tools that contribute to USA's award-winning customer service and benchmark security programs. USA's investment in training and development resources is reflected not only by BEST Awards from the American Society for Training & Development, consistent ranking on the Training magazine Top 125, and technology-driven quality management system, but also by the company's leadership team, security officers, and service excellence on a daily basis.

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