Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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Health and Safety: Teaching Tools



What is Violence?

Most people think of violence as a physical assault or attack. However, it is a much broader problem. It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, bullied or assaulted. These incidents can happen anywhere, such as in a schoolyard, on the street, at the coffee shop, or at work.

Three Broad Categories of Violence

Categories of Violence

Physical - where a person or his or her property is physically harmed.

Emotional - where a person's feelings are hurt through insults and name-calling.

Social - where a person is shunned and excluded from groups and events.


Acts of violence, both in daily lives and in workplaces or schools, can come in many forms. These include:

Types of Violence

Threatening Behaviour - such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.

Verbal or Written Threats - any expression of an intent to cause harm.

Harassment and Bullying - any behaviour that puts down, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses a person including words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities.

Verbal Abuse - swearing, insults or condescending language.

Physical Attacks - hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.

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 violence. There is a "continuum" or scale to violent acts. This scale does not mean that put downs or insults are not a form of violence, but rather that they are signs that should be noted and actions taken to stop them before the situation gets "out of control."

Work-Related Violence

Certain work activities and jobs tend to place people more at risk for exposure to workplace violence. Some of these situations include:

Work-Related Violence

  • working with the public,
  • handling money, prescriptions or valuables,
  • carrying out enforcement duties,
  • providing service, care, advice or education,
  • working alone (in a client's home, only employee in the store, real estate agent, etc.),
  • working where alcohol is served,
  • working with unstable or volatile persons (health care, social services, or in the criminal justice system),
  • having a mobile workplace (taxicab, salesperson), or
  • working during periods of intense organizational change (strikes, downsizing, takeovers).

Prevention and Management

One of the best ways to prevent an abusive or violent situation is to recognize the warning signs. A potentially angry or violent person may exhibit any or all of the following characteristics or signs:

Warning Signs

  • Red- or white-faced
  • Sweating
  • Pacing
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Clenched jaws or fists
  • Exaggerated or violent gestures
  • Change in voice - loud talking or chanting
  • Shallow or rapid breathing
  • Scowling, sneering or use of abusive language
  • Glaring or avoiding eye contact
  • Standing too close

Signs can be both verbal or through the use of body language. Violence usually begins as a verbal dispute. Use caution if someone shows these signs. It is best to excuse yourself as quickly as possible and leave the situation or area.



Tips for Avoiding a Potentially Bad Situation with Clients or Patients

Tips for Avoiding a Potentially Bad Situation


APPROACH clients in a non-threatening, respectful manner.
PROVIDE the right information at the right time. Do not overload the client with too much jargon or "slang".
EXPLAIN clearly and fully to the client what you are doing and how long it will take before starting the task. This step is important if you have to leave the room and the client does not know when you are coming back or how long you will take.
EXPLAIN clearly all the steps, how long it will take, and how much it will hurt if you are doing a type of medical procedure!
TRY not to be in the room alone with the client if you feel threatened.

If a client becomes angry or violent, stop what you are doing (if possible), and ask the client what is wrong. If you can, correct the situation. Otherwise explain why not and ask for help from your supervisor.

Problem Solving Tips

Problem Solving Tips

TRY to put yourself in the person's shoes so that you can better understand how to solve the problem.
BE honest. Do not make false statements or promises you cannot keep.
BE respectful.
BE reassuring and point out choices.
TRY to avoid making the situation worse.
FIND ways to help the person save face.
ESTABLISH ground rules if unreasonable behaviour persists.
AVOID issuing commands and making conditional statements.

Tips for "Verbal Communication" with a Stressed or Potentially Violent Person

Tips for Verbal Communication

FOCUS your attention on the other person to let them know you are interested in what they have to say.
REMAIN calm and try to calm the other person. Do not allow the other person's anger to become your anger.
REMAIN conscious of how you are delivering your words.
SPEAK slowly, quietly and confidently.
LISTEN carefully. Encourage the person to talk. Do not tell the person to relax or calm down.
REMAIN open-minded and objective.
USE silence as a calming tool.
ACKNOWLEDGE the person's feelings. Indicate that you can see he/she is upset.
do not
DO NOT GLARE or STARE - it may be perceived as a challenge.

Tips for Non-Verbal Behaviour and Communication with a Potentially Violent Person

Tips for Non-Verbal Behaviour and Communication

USE calm body language - relaxed posture with hands unclenched, attentive expression.
STAND beside the person - position yourself at a right angle rather than directly in front of the other person.
GIVE the person enough physical space - this varies by culture but normally 2 to 4 feet is considered an adequate distance.
KEEP movements "small" - do not make sudden movements which can be seen as threatening.
GET assistance from security or police.

If you feeel threatened


do not
DO NOT FIGHT - walk or run away.