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Workplace Violence Prevention News

Preventing workplace violence

Friday, January 11, 2013



The tragedy in Newtown CT at Sandy Hook Elementary hits very close to home for all of us.  In the hours and days after the tragic shooting I fielded numerous questions from friends, family, business owners and media.  A common theme emerged; how can we prevent another incident from occurring?  

 The reality is that extreme cases of violence are still relatively rare, even if it doesn't feel that way.  It is also true that in most instances there are very clear warning signs that violence may be imminent. While there is no one-size-fits all, here are some suggestions to help prevent violence from occurring at your organization.


  • Set the proper tone – Developing an organization that is resilient to acts of violence starts with a commitment from senior management; sustaining the prevention efforts requires active participation on their part.
  • Assess the vulnerability of your workplace.  It’s important to understand the unique challenges that your organization faces.   The type of work, facility, neighborhood, customers, existing security measures and policies and procedures are some of the things that should be reviewed.  There are a lot of assessment tools, but at the most basic level simply ask yourself, “how or why would somebody be able to commit an act of violence here?”  
  •  Address your findings - Once you have completed the assessment started addressing them by focusing on the items that will give you the greatest benefit for the lowest effort.  A multi-discipline team (HR, Security, Legal, Facilities) can be extremely effective in this area. 
  •  Open communication - Workplace violence, at a basic level, is simply another inappropriate workplace behavior.  It is likely that your organization already has proactive human resources or safety programs.  Leverage these programs and management teams to ensure that workplace violence programs can be sustained.  Let your employees know that it’s OK from them to talk to each other about their concerns. Encourage your employees to Speak up, Speak Clearly and Speak Often.   Remind your managers and supervisors that they are required to bring staff concerns forward. 
  • Training - Provide training to your staff on how to recognize the warning signs for people who may be heading down a path towards violence.  Make sure they know how to report their concerns and that their concerns will be taken seriously.
  • Trust your intuition - Above all else and at every level of the organization it’s important to trust your intuition.  All too often information is discovered after an incident that if it had been brought forward, may have prevented the violence from occurring.



  • Unresolved grievances
  • A history of violent behavior
  • Excessive displays of temper -  aggressive outbursts
  • Ominous fascination with weapons - bringing weapons to work
  • Intimidating others and/or instilling fear in peers and supervisors
  • Expressing extreme depression and/or anger
  • Bizarre comments or behavior, especially if it includes violent content or ideation
  • Drug or alcohol abuse problem
  • Holding grudges - inability to handle criticism, habitually making excuses and blaming others
  • Rigid and inflexible
  • An obsessive involvement with a job - no outside interests
  • Changing events that generate additional levels of stress


  • DECIDE TO SURVIVE– A survivor’s mindset is the key to making it through an incident. Be prepared to do whatever you have to do to survive.

    EVACUATE - Move away from the violence.  Know your escape routes. Notify others, and be prepared to move again.
  • HIDE - Find a location out view. Barricade your hiding spot/ lock the doors. Silence your cell phone
  • Be prepared to move again
  • FIGHT BACK - Be prepared to defend yourself as a last resort. Band together with others and act with physical aggression.  Use improvised weapons to defend yourself.


Organizations can be overwhelmed after an extreme case of violence.  Here are some additional considerations:

  • Centrally coordinated response - The response should be managed by a team with one person in charge.  This is to make sure that messages and response efforts, both internally and externally are consistent.  Even if you don’t have a formal business continuity plan or incident management team a group of people can be pulled together quickly to organize the response
  • Set clear objectives – Initially you may be solely focused on responding to the incident.  However, you should also set a path towards resuming normal business operations.   These two objects can run in parallel to each other.
  • Communicate with staff -   Staff will undoubtedly be concerned.  While it is not possible, or advised to provide specific details, you should be prepared to give enough details so they understand how the company is responding and what their role in the response and recovery will involve.  
  • Provide support for the Human Resources team – HR will be placed in the spotlight.  In addition to payroll issues, insurance, family notifications and general staff support, they will have to deal with a lot other items.  Regulatory investigations, offers of assistance from the public, trauma counseling beyond EAP.
  • Monitor the workplace environment - It is not uncommon for additional threat concerns to be raised.  Employees will likely bring forward every concern they have ever had.   Be prepared to respond to their questions.  Temporarily increasing security should be something you consider.  In addition, post-traumatic stress is very common in these types of incidents.  Work with mental health professionals to understand how to identify and respond to these issues.
  •  Provide guidance on interacting with media- Designate who will be the “face of the incident” and that all questions should be directed to them.  Anticipate that every communication you distribute will likely be forwarded to the media.
  •  Consider monitoring social media.  We have witnessed in recent responses to workplace shootings that some employees took pictures of the violence and posted online while the incident was still unfolding.   You may not be able to control social media interaction, but at the least you can be prepared to respond.
  •  Anticipate the unusual – Every violent incident will be different.There will be items that have to be dealt with that are going to be different from anything you have ever had to do.
  •  Support each other – Everybody responds differently to acts of violence. It’s important to anticipate that people will be dealing with their own fears and concerns.  Watch for signs of post-traumatic stress in others and yourself.
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