HR Management & Compliance

Keep Violence Out with Effective Prevention Strategies

Here are some workplace violence prevention tips from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management—which has had to deal with its share of workplace violence over the years.

Federal OSHA defines workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, customers, visitors, and others.

Assessing possible risks is an important early step in violence prevention. One way to do this is to look at possible sources of violence: strangers, customers, and employees or their associates.

Violence from Strangers

Violence from strangers is the most deadly form of workplace violence. It usually accompanies robbery. People planning robberies usually select their targets carefully and bring their weapons with them. Employees who work into the evening are particularly vulnerable to this type of workplace violence and can face some of the same risks on leaving the workplace or on their way home.

Preventive strategies may include:

  • Good lighting of various types
  • Perimeter security, such as badging, visitor screening, and controlled access to buildings
  • Employee training so everyone can support the security staff by following procedures and being alert for suspicious people or behaviors

Violence from Customers

Violence from customers is usually spontaneous and therefore less likely to be lethal. Preventive strategies include workplace design, carefully developed safety and security procedures, and employee awareness and prevention training.

Violence from Employees

Violence from employees or their close associates and violence from former employees is the most varied form of workplace violence. It can range from shoving or punching to homicide. It can grow out of workplace disputes or out of personal or emotional issues like the end of a romantic relationship.

Preventive measures may include good leadership principles, such as fairness, open communication, and respect for employees. It’s also important to have an environment in which employees feel safe to approach supervisors, security staff, or HR if they feel afraid for any reason.

Learn how to combat workplace violence in a healthcare setting. Find out more.

Warning Signs

Unfortunately, the best prevention strategies cannot always prevent violence, which means supervisors and employees throughout the workplace must be able to recognize warning signs. For example:

  • An employee says or hints that he or she might harm someone. People contemplating violence sometimes broadcast their intentions. Even if statements seem to be made in jest, employees need to understand that such jokes are not appropriate.
  • A worker appears to be frightened of someone else. That person feeling fear could be an employee or a supervisor. For example, a supervisor could be anxious about counseling or disciplining an employee.
  • An employee might seem afraid after talking with an irate ex-spouse over the phone.
  • An employee might frighten another employee with inappropriate talk about weapons.
  • A normally dependable employee may make excuses to avoid seeing a particular customer.

These situations should make alarm bells go off in your mind. You can follow up on your initial response by observing the situation more closely, gathering additional information, and seeking professional advice, if necessary.


OPM explains that response to threats or violent incidents must vary to fit the situation, but essentially there are three major tasks:

  • Evaluate the situation more extensively.
  • Develop and execute a plan for responding to it.
  • Address safety issues at every stage in the process.

As soon as possible, you and your advisors need to stabilize the situation in a way that preserves safety. This might involve barring a customer or employee from the building temporarily or moving a threatened employee temporarily to a safer place.

Once the immediate danger has passed, you need to move on to investigate the situation, collect statements and other documentation, and develop a long-term plan. The long-term plan may involve personnel actions, legal measures, or involvement of law enforcement organizations.

The Healthcare Industry’s Workplace Violence Epidemic: How to Develop & Launch an Effective Program to Combat Serious Risks

Live webinar coming next Tuesday, June 24, 2014
10:30 a.m. to Noon Pacific

Violence in the workplace is a growing concern to EHS managers across all industries. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1 million workers per year experience violent acts at work. However, the risk of workplace injury because of violence is quite substantial in the healthcare sector in particular.

In fact, nearly 60 percent of all nonfatal assaults and violent acts occurred in workplaces in the healthcare and social assistance industries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most frequent single act of violence in a workplace setting is assault against a nurse, more than assault on a police officer.

This is such a prevalent area of concern that the American Nurses Association has developed a model bill for states to consider called "The Violence Prevention in Health Care Facilities Act."

Clearly EHS managers and healthcare organizations need to effectively address this challenge. But where should you begin? 

Join us this coming Tuesday, June 24. Our presenter, a seasoned safety lawyer who has helped organizations develop and implement effective workplace violence prevention programs, will provide a clear understanding of the challenges involved and strategies for developing an effective and compliant program so your healthcare organization can effectively combat this growing workplace safety epidemic.

You and your colleagues will learn:

  • Working definitions that are helpful for understanding and framing workplace violence in the healthcare sector, including both physical and nonphysical/verbal abuse and assault
  • Key causes or origins of violence in the healthcare industry
  • Why healthcare settings may be particularly prone to workplace violence, including a discussion of patients, disgruntled employees, and situational factors
  • How federal OSHA addresses workplace violence in the healthcare industry
  • Responsibilities and legal requirements for when you’re developing a comprehensive program to address potential violence in a healthcare facility
  • Who to involve in developing your policy and program, including HR, legal, EHS, and senior management
  • Why senior management’s commitment and support is critical in addressing workplace violence
  • How to assess your healthcare facility to identify and assess potential workplace violence situations
  • What to include in your workplace violence prevention program, including components that address preparation, incident, and post-incident phases
  • How to train healthcare workers to detect signs of violence in the workplace and protect themselves
  • How to identify and evaluate outside resources to help you develop and implement an effective and compliant program that addresses potential violence concerns within your healthcare organization

Don’t miss this important webinar—sign up today.

Download your copy of 7 Steps for Preventing Workplace Violence today!