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Signs of Potential Violence in the Workplace

Most incidents of workplace violence only make the news if one or more people were shot or killed. But the truth is, the number of workplace homicides, while unacceptable and disturbing, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to violent incidents in the workplace.

According to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, 521 people were victims of workplace homicide in 2009. Another 572,000 were victims of non-homicide violence while at work.

Other types of workplace violence include, but are not limited to, assaults, confrontations, hostage taking, rape, robbery, sabotage, sexual harassment, suicide and threats.

Key in preventing these incidents is recognizing the signs of potential workplace danger in the early stages and taking action to proactively prevent and handle workplace violence.

We’ve put together several known warning signs that have the potential to lead to workplace violence.   workplace-violence-01

  • Threats: Threats come in a variety of forms and are delivered in a variety of ways. They may be direct like “I’m going to kill you” or indirect like “Somebody is going to get hurt.” They may be spoken, written or made to a second party.
  • Harassment and Bullying: Stalking, glaring, crowding, rude gesturing and otherwise intimidating behaviors all have the potential to escalate to more dangerous violent acts whether they evoke a response or are ignored by the victim.
  • Drug or Alcohol Abuse: Drug and alcohol abuse are often a form of self-medication that is ineffective and avoids appropriate treatment of the person’s mental health issues. They also contribute to misunderstandings, irrational behaviors and escalated reactions.
  • Conflict Issues: Whether it’s with co-workers, employers, customers or clients, having difficulty handling conflict, or creating conflict can be a warning sign. It’s understandable if people experience frustration or don’t always get along with others; however, if you notice this becoming a consistent behavior or is new and unexpected from that individual, it should be taken seriously.
  • Desperation: Financial, home, legal or work issues that leave a person feeling desperate can lead to desperate acts.
  • Interest or Fascination with Workplace Violence: Whether expressing empathy, acceptance or approval for someone else who has committed an act of workplace violence is a sign that the person may consider violence an acceptable resolution to a problem at work.
  • Weapons: Bringing weapons to work, inappropriate or excessive talk about weapons while at work, expressing a fascination with weapons or inappropriate references to weapons are all red flags to possible threats of danger.
  • Changes in Behavior: Any extreme changes in behavior should be evaluated. Everyone can have a bad day or two, but when behavior changes dramatically, or for an extended period of time, it may be a symptom of excessive stress, increased drug or alcohol use, or the onset of a mental illness, all of which can potentially lead to acts of workplace violence.

Workplace violence does not occur exclusively between co-workers, it may involve any combination of employees, customers, clients, vendors and bosses. It may feel uncomfortable reporting behavior you suspect may turn violent because the person in question is someone you work side-by-side with and may even care a great deal about.

It is important to remember that not everyone with one or more – or even all – of these warning signs will eventually commit an act of workplace violence. But in most cases of workplace violence, the perpetrator had exhibited one or more of these signs in advance of the incident. The purpose of detecting and reporting these warning signs is to have qualified staff assess the situation, determine the threat risk and act accordingly to prevent any potential threat to workplace safety.

Need help developing a plan to recognize, assess and respond to potential workplace violence? Contact Huffmaster today. Our 100+ years of combined experience in the business security industry, means Huffmaster makes office safety, shop security and asset safekeeping a realistic and achievable goal.

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Mike Saad, CPP

Senior Director Consulting Services at Huffmaster Crisis Response, LLC
Michael Saad is Senior Director of Consulting Services, Huffmaster Crisis Response, LLC. He is responsible for the security consulting line of business for the company. In that capacity he manages security program evaluation, corporate policy and procedure development, federal security compliance initiatives, corporate investigations, security threat and vulnerability analysis, and business risk management.
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