Physical Threats
Source: U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Violence in the workplace is a serious safety and health issue. Its most extreme form, homicide, is the third-leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 639 workplace homicides in 2001 in the United States out of a total of 8,786 fatal work injuries.

Many who have never experienced workplace violence believe they have no reason to worry and that violence would never happen in their office. Violent incidents are relatively rare, but they do occur and lives can be lost. A little preparation and investment in prevention now could save a life. There is no strategy that works for every situation, but the likelihood of a successful resolution is much greater if you have prepared ahead of time. 

Ignoring a situation usually results in an escalation of the problem, which lowers office morale and productivity. Effective employees leave the organization. Conversely, dealing effectively with hostility, intimidation and disruptive types of conflict creates a more productive workplace.

This method can have a deterrent effect on anyone contemplating or prone to acts of physical violence. Employees will see that there are consequences for their actions and that disruptive behavior is not tolerated in their organization.

Indicators of Potentially Violent Behavior

No one can predict human behavior and there is no specific “profile” of a potentially dangerous individual. However, indicators of increased risk of violent behavior are available. These indicators have been identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, Profiling and Behavioral Assessment Unit in its analysis of past incidents of workplace violence. These are some of the indicators:

  • Direct or veiled threats of harm
  • Intimidating, belligerent, harassing, bullying or other inappropriate and aggressive behavior
  • Numerous conflicts with supervisors and other employees
  • Bringing a weapon to the workplace, brandishing a weapon in the workplace, making inappropriate references to guns or fascination with weapons;
  • Statements showing fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem and/or statements indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides
  • Statements indicating desperation (over family, financial, and  other personal problems) to the point of contemplating suicide
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Extreme changes in behaviors

Each of these behaviors is a clear sign that something is wrong. None should be ignored. By identifying the problem and dealing with it appropriately managers may be able to prevent violence from happening. Agency planning groups should ensure that the appropriate staff member (or an incident response team) is prepared to assist supervisors and other employees in dealing with such situations.

Some behaviors require immediate police or security involvement; others constitute actionable misconduct and require disciplinary action; and still others indicate an immediate need for an Employee Assistance Program referral.