Workplace Violence: How to Recognize and Reduce Risks

Explore essential strategies to combat workplace violence. Learn to recognize the signs, understand its forms, and implement measures to protect your team.



When you think back to your original plans of being an employer, the threat of workplace violence and keeping your employees safe probably wasn't on your radar. However, today's workplace demands vigilance against such threats.

Unfortunately, today’s workplace requires the need to identify and eliminate any threat of violence at work. While this is not something that necessarily improves company culture, it is a problem that could lead to negative consequences if not proactively prevented.

Here at Stratus HR, we can help you build effective workplace violence prevention programs. Contact one of our certified HR experts to get started.

With that in mind, here are our tips to recognize threats of workplace violence so you can prevent potential problems and keep your workers safe.

The many faces of workplace violence

Workplace violence can be anything from physical assaults and violence to intimidation, harassment, or threats against an employee at work. In some cases, violence at work can be fatal.

In fact, workplace violence incidents are the third-leading cause of death for workplace injuries in the United States.

Violent behaviors are manifested in three main forms:

  1. Physical violence: any form of physical assault, including hitting or kicking a person.
  2. Threatening actions: throwing objects, vandalism, or destroying property.
  3. Verbal abuse or written threats: expressing the intent to harm using insults, swearing, or inappropriate language.

Where does workplace violence typically occur?

Workplace violence events can happen on any work-related occasion, not just at your worksite location. This may include threats of violence at a work conference, while making deliveries or picking up supplies, at a work-sponsored social event, outside the office in the parking lot, or at any other work-related situation.

Who is usually the perpetrator of workplace violence?

Recognizing a violent offender is not always obvious. An offender could be a client, a co-worker, a relative of the victim, a vendor, a customer, or anyone who interacts with your staff. 

Who is typically the victim of workplace violence?

Just like an offender could be anyone affiliated with your workplace, victims of workplace violence could be someone onsite or offsite from your work location.

How to identify potential workplace violence risk factors

Factors contributing to violence vary depending on your work setup. Some industries have a higher potential for risk and may need more specific risk-prevention methods to keep staff safe.

Companies with patients

When working with patients, such as a nursing home or psychiatric ward, here are several areas to review with your risk management team to identify and contain risks:

  1. Do healthcare employees work with patients who are violent or have a history of drug or alcohol abuse?
  2. Is your staff transporting a psychiatric patient to a hospital?
  3. Does anyone work alone in a hospital that may have violent patients?
  4. If employees work in a psychiatric ward or hospital, is there a proper escape route?
  5. Does your company have emergency communication methods like panic buttons?

Once you identify whether these risks are contained at your workplace, you will need to create a solution for those that are not. Next, you will need to communicate and practice your company’s plan so that employees feel confident in how to respond, in the event of an emergency.

Companies without patients

Risky situations are not just in hospitals; employees working for organizations or businesses can also experience violence. Here's what to be aware of:

  • Lack of awareness of workplace violence
  • Inadequate security in a company building
  • Unrestricted movement of guests in a building
  • Fear of victimization and not reporting incidences of violence to the authorities
  • Lack of programs to prevent workplace violence

After assessing each of these areas with risk management, implement safety measures to minimize potential threats. In many situations, properly training employees is key to preventing problems.

Workplace violence warning signs to watch out for

When workers are educated about warning signs for when they could be in danger, the chances of preventing workplace violence are significantly improved. Train your employees to identify these common behavioral indicators:

  • A person expressing anger through outbursts without being provoked
  • Continuous violation of workplace policies
  • Withdrawal
  • Speaking with a threatening tone
  • Breathing heavily
  • Clenched fists
  • Poor hygiene
  • Fixed stare and a sudden change of behavior

If an employee witnesses or experiences any of these warning signs, they should seek safety and report the concerning behaviors immediately.

How to implement security measures

Implementing the right safety and security measures is a proactive way of identifying and preventing instances of workplace violence. Putting controls in place enables you to find existing or potential loopholes that might put your workers at risk.

Start with collecting information through the following avenues:

  • Client or patient survey that provides valuable feedback to help enhance security.
  • Records analysis to identify patterns. For example:
    • Are customers more infuriated during the holiday rush? 
    • Do employees lose control of their emotions when they work a certain amount of overtime?
  • Job analysis to identify hazards related to specific tasks at work. For example:
    • Is the nighttime shift more likely to have instances of workplace violence?
    • Do employees receive fewer threats when there are at least two workers together at a time?

Senior managers, supervisors, and business leaders should be at the forefront of assessing the workplace and supporting the risk management team in implementing safety improvements. Independent reviewers, safety professionals, and auditors can also provide a fresh perspective to strengthen your workplace violence prevention program. 

Best practices for a secure workplace

In addition to creating policies and training staff on how to proceed in the event of a threat or emergency, it’s important to review proactive methods to maintain safety. Consider the following best practices.

1. Control access with identifiers

Consider ways to properly identify everyone in a building to control access to your premises. Ensure only authorized people enter, particularly sensitive areas that should have restrictive access.

2. Track car and people movement

Some workplaces may need to track people and vehicles coming in and out of work premises. Consider installing surveillance cameras for the exterior of the building, as well as sign-in forms for those coming inside.

3. Perform security audits

Conduct a security audit to ensure all physical access points are safe. If any doors or windows are not in good condition, they should be repaired immediately. 

The audit should include a review of training programs and educating new employees on the security measures in the work setup.

We can provide you with expert HR guidance on occupational safety

In the evolving landscape of today's workplaces, the importance of proactive measures against workplace violence cannot be overstated. It's not just about compliance; it's about creating a safe, conducive environment for everyone. 

At Stratus HR, we're committed to helping businesses navigate these challenges. With our expert HR guidance, you can build effective workplace violence prevention plans tailored to your needs. Not yet partnered with Stratus HR? Book a free consultation today and let our certified HR experts guide your company towards a safer tomorrow.

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