Blog Articles

Recognizing Potential Workplace Violence

Act Before a Violent Incident Occurs

Environment, health, and safety (EHS) managers are key players in ensuring that their companies take steps to reduce the probability of violence in the workplace. The time to address workplace violence is before any incidents occur. 

Preparation is a two-pronged approach: 1-Train employees for active shooter situations, and  2-  Maintain resources to provide employees an avenue to report concerns.

When training employees, companies should develop a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. The program should include:

  • A plan that focuses on the risks most likely to affect your workplace

  • Management commitment and worker involvement

  • Worksite analysis that assesses your facility’s strengths and weaknesses, both physical and procedural

  • Safety and health training with procedures for your workers to follow during acts of workplace violence

    • Periodic drills for your workers to practice the actions they should take during a workplace violence emergency
    • Ensure your facility has at least two evacuation routes
    • Post evacuation routes in conspicuous locations throughout your facility
    • Include local law enforcement and first responders during training exercises
    • Invite law enforcement, emergency responders, SWAT teams, K-9 teams or bomb squads to train for an active shooter scenario at your location
  • Recordkeeping processes, and
  • Regular program evaluations

Indicators of potential violence by an employee

Employees typically don't just “snap,” but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time. If these behaviors are recognized, they can often be managed and treated. Potentially violent behaviors by an employee may include one or more of the following:

  • Unexplained increase in absenteeism; vague physical complaints

  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene

  • Depression and/or withdrawal

  • Resistance and overreaction to changes in policy and procedures

  • Repeated violations of company policies

  • Increased severe mood swings

  • Noticeably unstable, emotional responses

  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation

  • Suicidal; comments about “putting things in order”

  • Behavior which suggests paranoia (“everybody is against me”)

  • Increasingly talks of problems at home

  • Escalation of domestic problems into the workplace; talk of severe financial problems

  • Talk of previous incidents of violence

  • Empathy with individuals committing violence

Keep in mind that an active shooter in your workplace may be a current or former employee, or an acquaintance of a current or former employee. Intuitive managers and co- workers may notice characteristics of potentially violent behavior in an employee. Employees should alert their HR department if he/she believes a co-worker or family member exhibits potentially violent behavior. 

These events have become too commonplace in our workplaces. The best defense is thoughtful preparation and a shared commitment and cooperation among management and employees.  Management must be committed to safety by providing a comprehensive program, including training and opportunities to practice, and employees need to be vigilant, participate in their own safety, and feel comfortable identifying and reporting on potentially violent situations.