Reducing Workplace Violence

Tamar Altbeker, LSW


Violence can be defined as destructive harm including not only physical

assaults on the body, but also the many techniques of inflicting harm by

mental or emotional means. In today's society violence has increased.

Violence has become more socially accepted through its depiction in the

media, movies and even in sporting events. The sensationalization of violence

creates the situation whereby people feel less responsible for their actions

and the connection of crime to punishment is less clear.


The workplace has not escaped the increase in violent incidents. According to

Northwestern Life Insurance Company, in 1992, an average of three people were

murdered on the job every working day and over 10% of the nation's total

trauma related deaths occurred in the workplace. Verbal assault is the

leading form of violence on the job.


Contributors to violence in the workplace include alcohol and drug abuse,

layoffs, job stress and job related conflicts, violence on TV and in the

movies, accessibility of guns, and increasing poverty. Additionally,

conflicts between partners/spouses are often brought to the workplace and

have resulted in violent attacks.


Unfortunately, without the elimination of violence in society, the workplace

will continue to be a site of violence. We all, therefore, need to take steps

toward the prevention and reduction of violent incidents at work. Individuals

can help reduce their risk of violence by taking the following steps in

personal safety:


Avoid working in isolated circumstances.

Always be aware of your surroundings.

Use a buddy system where you keep track of your coworker and expect him/her

to keep track of you.

Avoid having items on you (or in open areas) such as scissors that can be

used as weapons.

Report any situation where you feel threatened or in danger.

Be aware of the behavior of others. Recognize the signs of escalating

aggressive behavior including pushing or testing the limits of acceptable

behavior, indications of drug or alcohol use, persistent blaming of others,

and obsessive interest in violent incidents and/or in weapons.

Avoid being alone in dark areas such as parking facilities. Be resourceful in

finding ways to get to your car. If available, ask for an escort or walk with

a co-worker.

Avoid being an attractive target by limiting the valuables on your person.

Have a plan in place in the event of a violent incident.

Ensure accessibility of exits.

If a potentially violent incident occurs, there are several specific,

immediate responses you may want to exercise. If you are aware of an

escalating situation, it is important to remain calm, as your anxiety may be

communicated to others. Speak softly, clearly and directly. By using your

voice, you may be able to exert some control over the situation. Ask simple,

direct questions to help regain control of the situation. Listen to what is

being said. Be empathic, as the individual may be angry, confused or upset.

Do not argue. Keep the person in your line of sight and move away from

anything that may be used as a weapon. Examine your options for escape should

this become necessary. Suggest to the potential perpetrator that he/she

should leave the facility and then contact a manager or supervisor by phone.

Have a prearranged signal for a coworker to contact the police. Be reasonable

and do not attempt to be a hero. Do not touch, attempt to force, restrain or

disarm a perpetrator. Once a situation has been stabilized, secure the work

environment by locking doors and alerting security. Contact the police and if

necessary, appropriate medical response services.


The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can continue to explore ways to

increase your safety at work. Additionally, should a violent incident occur,

the EAP can assist in several ways. First, EAP staff can plan and conduct

Critical Incident Stress Debriefings for employees. These groups allow people

to discuss the incident and their reactions to the event. Second, EAP

counselors are also available to meet privately and confidentially on an

individual basis.


Tamar Altbeker, LSW is an EAP counselor with Employee Resource Systems, Inc.

She has provided counseling for individuals and their families for issues

including substance abuse and domestic violence.