Workplace violence has emerged as an important safety and health issue in
today's workplace. Its most extreme form, homicide, is the second leading
cause of fatal occupational injury and accounts for 11% of the fatal work
injuries in the United States.
In response to concerns related to Workplace Violence, Virginia Tech has
implemented a Campus and
Workplace Violence Prevention Policy.
Factors that may increase a worker's risk for workplace assault, as
identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
- Contact with the
public, especially where the interactions have a potential to be
emotional or stressful
- Exchange of money
- Delivery of
passengers, goods, or services
- Having a mobile
workplace such as a taxicab or police cruiser
- Working with unstable
or volatile persons in health care, social services, or criminal justice
- Working alone or in
- Working late at night
or during early morning hours
- Working in high-crime
- Guarding valuable
property or possessions
- Working in
In addition, supervisory (e.g., firing and disciplinary) actions can
increase the risk of workplace violence.
Indicators of potentially violent behavior
No one can predict human behavior and there is no "specific
profile" of a potentially dangerous individual. However, indicators of
increased risk of violent behavior are available. These indicators have been
identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Center for the
Analysis of Violent Crime, Profiling and Behavioral Assessment Unit in its
analysis of past incidents of workplace violence. These are some of the
- Direct or veiled
threats of harm;
belligerent, harassing, bullying, or other inappropriate and aggressive
- Numerous conflicts
with supervisors and other employees;
- Bringing a weapon to
the workplace, brandishing a weapon in the workplace, making
inappropriate references to guns, or fascination with weapons;
- Statements showing
fascination with incidents of workplace violence, statements indicating
approval of the use of violence to resolve a problem, or statements
indicating identification with perpetrators of workplace homicides;
- Statements indicating
desperation (over family, financial, and other personal problems) to the
point of contemplating suicide;
- Drug/ alcohol abuse;
- Extreme changes in
Each of these behaviors is a clear sign that something is wrong. None
should be ignored.
Some recommended engineering and administrative controls include:
- Position reception
area so that it is visible to fellow employees, or members of the public
- Position office
furniture so that the employee is closer to the exit than the client,
and so that the employee cannot be cornered.
- Minimize/restrict the
number of entrances to a workplace; assure all access points are highly
visible and well lighted.
- Enforce key control
- Establish a code word
that employees can use to alert co-workers to a potentially violent
- Post emergency
procedures and phone numbers.
- Using coded keys or
card to control access to the building or certain areas within the
- Separate employees
from the public (e.g., bullet-proof barriers, other physical barriers)
- Assure adequate
exterior lighting in and around the workplace and near entrances.
- Evaluate staffing
patterns and work locations-working alone, especially at odd hours,
increases the risk.
- Consider installing
video surveillance equipment and closed circuit TV; if such devices are
installed, post signs indicating that these devices are in-use.
- Consider installing an
alarm system and/or duress/panic buttons where appropriate.
- Provide training on
how to identify hazardous situations and how to respond appropriately in
- Establish escape
- Establish a
chain-of-command for emergency situations.
- Work with local police
to identify hazards/conduct security assessments
- Prepare a daily work
plan so that you and others know where and when you are expected
- Identify a designated
contact at the office and a back-up. Keep that person informed of your
location and consistently adhere to the call-in schedule.
- Check the credentials
of clients and employees.
- Use the "buddy
system", especially when you feel your personal safety may be
threatened. Do not enter any situation or location where you feel
threatened or unsafe.
- Define a confidential
process by which all incidents of violence will be reported.
- As a supervisor, watch
for warning signs and be wary of circumstances that could precede a
violent outburst (disciplinary action, conflict, unsatisfactory review,
termination, personal crisis, impending deadline, etc.)
- Screen all new hires
Post-incident response and evaluation
The university strives to provide a campus and workplace free from
violence and to protect and support victims and those threatened or exposed
to acts or threats of workplace violence by offering security measures and
identifying appropriate resources for providing support and assistance.
Victims may also need special accommodations or adjustments to their work or
class schedule, location or working conditions in order to enhance their
safety. The university shall accommodate these requests and needs whenever
possible and appropriate. Support services include:
- critical incident
stress debriefing; or
- employee assistance
programs to assist victims.
Supervisors who have employees that have experienced workplace violence
should contact Personnel Services for guidance and support.
Three counseling options are available for students free of charge.
On-campus services include the Virginia Tech Women's Center and the Cook
Counseling Center. The Women's Center Sexual Assault Services and Education
Coordinator offers crisis intervention, short-term counseling, victim
advocacy, case management, support groups, and information and referral. The
Cook Counseling Center offers both short-term and long-term individual and
group counseling. The Women's Resource Center in Radford offers a 24-hour
crisis line, individual and group counseling, and legal advocacy.
- The Virginia Tech
Women's Center 231-7806
- Women's Resource
Center 639-9592 (office) 639-1123 (hotline, 24 hours)
- Cook Counseling
Center 231-6557 (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) 231-6444 (5 p.m.- 8 a.m.)
- Schiffert Health
Center (Women's Clinic) 231-6444 (anytime)
- Virginia Tech Police
911 (emergency, on-campus) 231-6411 (office)
- Blacksburg Police
911 (emergency, off-campus) 961-1150 (office)
- Student Life and
Advocacy Office 231-3787
- Office of Judicial Affairs
- Student Legal
- Equal Opportunity
- Planned Parenthood
- Personnel Services
Employer Actions to Prevent Violence
Employee safety and health should receive the same priority as client
safety. Since workers may be reluctant to report assaults, supervisors should
promote awareness of the dangers of workplace violence, and clearly
articulate goals and plans for preventing it. Specifically you, as a
- Provide safety
education for employees. The Virginia Tech Police Department can provide
training on awareness, avoidance and prevention of mugging, robbery,
rape, and other assaults.
- Establish a
communication system, such as a cellular phone, for employees to use
while in the field.
- Instruct employees
not to enter any location where they feel unsafe. Utilize a "buddy
system," escort service, or police assistance in potentially
dangerous situations or at night.
- Establish procedures
to decrease the risk robbery (e.g., advise employees not to carry
- Require field staff
to prepare a daily work plan and keep a contact person informed of their
location throughout the day.
- Assure proper maintenance
of employer provided vehicles.
- Provide field
personnel with hand held alarms or noise devices.
- Thoroughly pre-screen
applicants for positions in your work unit.
Employee Steps to Avoid Violence
- Learn how to
recognize, avoid, or diffuse potentially violent situations by attending
personal safety training programs.
- Follow procedures
for alerting supervisors to any concerns about safety or security.
- Collect detailed
information regarding the client's or patient's home situation (e.g.,
exact location, parking facilities).
- Report all violent
incidents in writing to the supervisor, even if there were no injuries.
If confronted by an angry person, you may be able to diffuse the
situation. Try the following:
- Make eye contact, but
- Stand about four feet
away, with your hands open and receptive at your sides
- Avoid challenging
body language such as hands on hips or "parental" finger
- Be considerate of
cultural differences or disabilities.
- Stop what you are
doing and give the person your full attention.
- Speak in a calm voice
and create a relaxed environment.
- Speak respectfully -
treat the person as you would like to be treated.
- Be open and honest.
- Let the person have
his or her say without interruption
- Ask for specific
examples of the person's concern
- Be careful to define
- Ask open-ended
questions. For example:
o Tell me what is going on.
o What do you think the real problem is?
o What would you like to see happen?
o Anything else?
o Give me an example.
o Tell me more.
- Reflect back to the
person what you are hearing, i.e. "you are saying that you should
have passed the class."
What to Do When Violence Occurs
- Try to stay calm. Raising
your own voice may increase the anxiety of a potentially violent person.
- Speak slowly, softly,
and clearly to reduce the momentum of the situation.
- Listen empathetically
by really paying attention to what the person is saying. Let the person
know that you will help them within your ability to do so or you will
send for additional help.
- Do not agree using
distorted statements or attempt to argue.
- Avoid defensive
statements. This is not the time to place blame on the enraged person.
- Ask the belligerent
person to leave the area and come back when they feel calmer.
- Ask questions to help
regain control of the conversation.
- Ask uninvolved
parties to leave the area if this can be done safely.
- Use the prearranged
code word to alert your coworker(s) to call the Campus Police.
- Never challenge, try
to bargain, or make promises you cannot keep.
- Describe the
consequences of any violent behavior.
- Avoid challenging
body language such as placing your hands on your hips, moving toward the
person, or staring directly at them. If seated, remain in your chair and
do not turn your back on the individual.
- Do not physically
touch an outraged person, or try to force them to leave.
- Move away from any
object, such as scissors or heavy objects that could be used as a
- Calmly ask the person
to place any weapons in a neutral location while you continue to talk to
- Never attempt to
disarm or accept a weapon from the person in question. Weapon retrieval
should only be done by a police officer.
Employer Follow-up When Violence Occurs
- Encourage employees
to report and log all incidents and threats of workplace violence.
- Provide for prompt
medical evaluation and treatment after each incident, regardless of
- Promptly report
violent incidents to the Virginia Tech Police Department.
- Inform victims of
workplace violence of their legal right to prosecute perpetrators.
- Discuss the
circumstances of incidents of assault with staff members. Provide
opportunities for employees to share information about ways to avoid
such problems in the future.
- Investigate all
violent incidents and threats, monitor trends in violent incidents by
type or circumstance, and institute corrective actions.
For additional information on emergency planning, see the Departmental
Emergency Planning Guidelines.
Related Information and Useful Links
Virginia Tech Police Department
Virginia Tech Personnel Services Employee Assistance Program
Virginia Tech's Stop Abuse
Occupational Safety and Health Administration Workplace
Violence Fact Page
NIOSH Bulletin on Risk
Factors and Prevention Strategies