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Tips for Preventing Workplace Violence

Talking about violence in the workplace can be an uncomfortable process. But it is also unavoidable if you want to do all you can to eliminate the threat of violence from your practice.

Why not approach employee reluctance to talk about violence head-on? Here are seven common expressions of resistance, along with reasons why the discussion is necessary:

group of people sitting beside rectangular wooden table with laptops

1. All this violent business is a waste of time; you can never predict when a person is going to "flip out."

In fact, in most cases, there are warning signs. The key is to try to take action before problems escalate. Co-workers are often the people in the best position to observe inappropriate behaviors.

2. My personal problems are my own business and not the company's business.

If there is a potential for violence on company premises, it is the company's business. Also, violent people often do seek their victims out at work. Even if the victim has left home and changed addresses, the violent person knows where he or she is during the workday.

3. My workspace is right by the back door. It's too annoying to park in the back and then walk all the way around to the front to get into the building, and then walk all the way to the back. So we rigged the alarm and found ourselves a key so we can slip through the back door in the morning and get right to work.

It's easy to understand why people think this way, but it is a dangerous way to be. Unfortunately, in many organizations, although effective security measures have been installed, employees circumvent the systems, leaving the premises exposed.

4. Jim has started to get a little weird at work. He's always talking about guns and shooting. Yesterday, he said if management messed with him, he'd get them. It's a little worrisome. If it gets much worse, I'll have to talk to someone about it.

Now is the time to talk to management. Don't hope it will get better or go away.

5. Since OSHA doesn't have a violence standard, at least we don't have to worry about the government being after us if there is a violent episode.

It's true that OSHA doesn't have a standard directed specifically toward violence in the workplace. However, OSHA does have its General Duty Clause, which says that employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace, and that includes a workplace free from violence.

6. Sheila has been kind of wild the last few weeks. She goes into her office and throws things, and she rants at her people. I expect she'll calm down soon. I hope so, we're not getting too much done.

Now is the time to address this behavior. Will it get worse or better? You don't know, but you can't take a chance. Furthermore, you do know that the behavior is interfering with productivity, and that gives you an excellent way to approach the person.

7. Terry is getting angrier and angrier at Alex. Terry has good reasons for disliking Alex, both at work and outside work. Yesterday, Terry shouted, "Alex if you pull that one more time, you and your family are going to regret it."

In many organizations, the policy specifically states that threats will be taken as real. You've reached a dangerous situation here, and it must be dealt with strongly and immediately. Don't let anyone get away with saying, "Oh, relax, I was just kidding."

Use these scenarios to drive home the point about taking violence in the workplace seriously. You can also take each scenario in turn as a lead-in to talking about the specific potential violence concerns presented in each case, as well as the precautions employees can take to prevent the violence.