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
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
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
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.