Loss Control Insights

Identifying and De-Escalating Workplace Violence

work place violence

One of the most visible examples of workplace violence happened several months ago when a television journalist and her cameraman were murdered on live TV by a former coworker. For every act of workplace violence that gets this level of attention, many more cases go completely unnoticed. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, two million American workers report being victims of some form of workplace violence each year.

Are You at Risk of Workplace Violence?
Although incidents of workplace violence have been reported at nearly every type and size of business, some employees are at greater risk. Among them are people who exchange money, people who work with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service representatives, law enforcement personnel and those who work alone or in small groups. A zero tolerance policy toward workplace violence is a necessary component of any prevention program. Employees should be trained and ready to reduce these types of incidents by understanding how to recognize and de-escalate a potentially violent situation.

Identifying and Responding to the Stages of Violent Behavior
Workplace violence rarely begins with the violent act. The act is the culmination of several stages of aggressive behavior. The better attuned you are to identifying these stages and responding appropriately, the greater the likelihood of defusing a potentially dangerous situation.

STAGE 1: ANXIETY

What to Look for:
The individual you are dealing with begins drumming their fingers, tapping a pencil, breathing rapidly and showing signs of tension and discomfort.
How to Respond:
Be nonjudgmental and empathetic. Ask supportive questions and offer your full attention to alleviate their anxiety.

STAGE 2: ARGUMENTATIVE/DEFENSIVE

What to Look for:
During this stage, people may become disrespectful and belligerent, or start to challenge authority.
How to Respond:
Give simple, reasonable directions (five words or less). Do not make threats. Provide consequences for the aggressor’s choices.

STAGE 3-4: VERBALLY/PHYSICALLY THREATENING

What to Look for:
Individuals begin to make verbal threats of physical violence or position themselves in an intimidating manner.
How to Respond:
Follow predetermined emergency procedures, including seeking immediate assistance. Avoid being alone.

STAGE 5: ASSAULTIVE

What to Look for:
There is physical contact between you and any part of the aggressor’s body.
How to Respond:
Seek safety. Implement emergency response procedures and contact law enforcement.

Preventing Workplace Violence Is an Ongoing Activity
Training employees on ways to de-escalate violent behavior is only part of a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. Other elements of effective programs include:

  • Installing video surveillance, extra lighting, alarm systems and minimizing access to the building
  • Providing drop safes to limit the amount of cash on hand
  • Instructing employees not to enter any location where they feel unsafe
  • Conducting follow-up assessments after any act of workplace violence

Arm Yourself With Information
Interested in learning more about how to protect your organization and employees from acts of workplace violence? Check out these helpful resources: