workplace violence

Did you know that you’ll spend roughly one third of your life at work? Jessica Pryce-Jones calculated in her book Happiness At Work that people will spend an average of 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetimes.

Given that we all spend so much time at our respective workplaces, we deserve to feel safe, secure, and to never be subjected to violence or harassment. Unfortunately, the reality for many American workers is vastly different.In this guide, we’ll walk you through the basics of understanding, preventing, and handling workplace violence. With this information, you’ll be better equipped to create a more secure and welcoming environment for all your employees.


Understanding Workplace Violence

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), 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.”

Next, it’s important to recognize just how prevalent the issue of workplace violence is in the United States. OSHA reports that roughly 2 million American workers are the victims of workplace violence every single year. While the report acknowledges that no one is immune to its effects, it points out that certain people are at a particularly high risk. These high-risk employees include, but are not limited to:

  • Those who exchange money with the public
  • Those who deliver passengers, goods, or services
  • Those who work alone or in small groups
  • Those who work late night or early morning shifts
  • Those who work in high-crime regions and have extensive contact with the public

Even more specifically, some of the precise high-risk professions include:

  • Nurses
  • Probation officers
  • Community workers (i.e. gas and water utility staff)
  • Social services workers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Taxi and Uber drivers


Preventing Workplace Violence

As an HR professional, manager or business owner, your responsibility is ensuring the health and safety of your staff. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to effectively prevent workplace violence from occurring within your organization.

Firstly, the importance of implementing a workplace violence awareness program cannot be stressed enough. A workplace violence awareness program will allow you to train your employees and inform them of the latest workplace safety standards. The curriculum of such a course must include appropriate workplace behavior as well as the procedures to follow in the event of an incident.

Another strategy for preventing workplace violence is to train employees to recognize warning signs. Offer regular training courses for both new and seasoned employees briefing them on how to be alert for common warning signs. Some of these warning signs may include, but are not limited to:

  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Depression or withdrawal
  • Complaints about unjust treatment
  • Sudden poor job performance
  • Violation of company policies
  • Mood swings
  • Overreaction to constructive criticism during employee reviews
  • Paranoia

By informing workers of these common warning signals, they’ll have a better chance to spot potential workplace violence incidents before they even happen.


Handling Workplace Violence

Even if you’ve done everything in your power to prevent workplace violence, these incidents will happen sometimes. Despite our best intentions, it’s sometimes impossible to avoid workplace violence. With that in mind, you need to know exactly what to do if or when you’re in that situation.

Our first recommendation is to act quickly to neutralize the issue. As soon as you witness or become aware of an incident, you must immediately engage with the involved parties and take responsibility for corresponding with them on the matter. Remain calm to de-escalate the situation and prevent it from getting any worse. 

From there, you must conduct an in-depth investigation into the circumstances of the incident to ensure all preventative measures were correctly put in place. Speak to witnesses (if there are any) as well as the parties involved to get a clearer picture of what happened. Once you have this knowledge, you’ll have a stronger basis for building your subsequent punitive actions. You’ll also have a better idea of additional preventative resources you can add to the workplace to avoid any recurrences.

 Workplace violence is never something to take lightly. For far too many American employees, workplace violence is a life-altering event. In many cases, it forever impacts their physical and psychological well-being, not to mention their professional performance. Your employees deserve to be safe at work. By reading this guide, you’ve taken an excellent first step in ensuring they are.

Photo by Yan Krukov from Pexels