Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem. It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment.
Rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson and murder are all examples of workplace violence.
Please see our OSH Answers Violence in the Workplace for more details on the risk factors for workplace violence and how to establish a prevention program.
You must remember that it can be very difficult to know when a person is going to be violent. While not all people will show the following signs, these types of behaviours and physical signs can serve as warning signs that a situation could turn violent. Always take these behaviours "in context". Look for multiple warning signs and for signs of escalation (the behaviours are getting worse).
If you are concerned about a person who shows some or all of the identified characteristics, take action. Report your concern to your supervisor, or human resources department.
Workplace violence can start as small incidents involving negative remarks and inappropriate behaviour. It may escalate to physical or psychological violence.
It is much easier to prevent violence by stopping small incidents than trying to deal with the aftermath of a major crisis.
It is extremely important to understand that the following behaviours do not mean a person will become violent, but they may indicate that the person is experiencing high levels of stress. Each situation is unique and professional judgement or outside assistance may be necessary to determine if intervention is necessary.
Always take particular note if:
Warning signs include:
Sometimes it is not what a person says, but what their body is "doing". Use caution if you see someone who shows one or more of the following "non-verbal" signs or body language.
In some cases, there has been a clear pattern of warning signs before a violent incident. When you can, take note of:
History of violence
Increase in personal stress
Negative personality characteristics
Marked changes in mood or behaviour
Abuses drugs or alcohol
If you are an employee, you can report your concerns to your supervisor, or human resources department. You can also get advice from your employee assistance program (EAP) if you have one. Find out if you have a violence prevention program in your workplace and what you should do -- if not, encourage your employer to develop one.
If you are an employer, you should know that many organizations are developing workplace violence prevention policies and programs. In fact, programs are required in many jurisdictions. A program is the best way to prevent workplace violence because it takes a very structured, well thought out approach to identifying hazards and reducing the risks for your organization. If your organization has a program, great! You should be fully aware of the policy and procedures developed to help keep your workplace safe. If you do not have a program, you should consider developing one. Remember, employers have a legal obligation to provide employees with a safe workplace. This obligation includes providing a workplace free from workplace violence.
Document last updated on March 6, 2006