Workplace Safety

Working Proactively to Prevent Violence

Employees and employers must learn to spot the red flags that signal a situation on the brink of turning violent.
By: | January 29, 2016

Decreased productivity, a change in work habits, excessive tardiness, and frequently missed deadlines may be indications of an employee on the verge of committing violence, says an expert.

Many companies miss the warning signs because people at all levels are unaware of the red flags and/or don’t know what to do if they see them.


Often, there is an accumulation of events leading up to a violent incident. Employers and employees must be able to connect the dots in order to mitigate a potential tragedy.

“What I usually find is that employees may see a sign on its own, something that they may view as inappropriate behavior, but on its own it is not a significant issue,” said Carol Frederickson, CEO of Violence Free, a violence-prevention consulting firm.

“Individually, these incidents may seem unimportant, but collectively they may paint a picture of something much more serious.”

Frederickson, who spent 15 years in law enforcement, says problems such as financial pressures, health concerns, family turmoil, and mental illness can lead someone on a downward spiral toward violence.

She will outline the warning signs and discuss ways employers can proactively address violence during the American Society of Safety Engineers’ SeminarFest on Feb. 11.

“I think people in general are in denial that it could happen to them or at their workplace,” she said.

“In our minds, the two places that we are the safest are in our homes and our work, so we just believe that this could not happen, that no one we work with could possibly do this. We may ignore some of the warning signs because we think ‘it happens someplace else, not here.’”

Warning Signs

A change in personality is one of the warning signs, Frederickson explains. A person who has been outgoing becomes quiet and withdrawn, even defensive and possibly displays unjustified anger.

“Often, however, people chalk these issues up to someone having a bad day or a bad week, which only pushes the boundaries of aggressive behavior further, sometimes to the point where the potentially violent person ‘holds all the power and controls the office.’”

“Every place of employment, no matter the size, needs to have a workplace violence policy that is easily understood and has clear reporting policies.” — Carol Frederickson, CEO, Violence Free.

Someone who obsesses about a topic and talks about it constantly may also be at risk of violence. But such behaviors are typically not reported and the company cannot intercede in time.

“Every place of employment, no matter the size, needs to have a workplace violence policy that is easily understood and has clear reporting policies,” Frederickson says. She recommends employers include the following in their violence-prevention policies:

    • Create a threat assessment or crisis team that includes representatives of human resources, security, facility management, risk management, unions, operations, communications and in-house legal counsel. The group should meet when there is a threat of violence or when the company has a high-risk termination.

  • Conduct a gap analysis to identify vulnerabilities. These will typically reveal several concerns such as whether employees who drive company vehicles know how to handle a road rage incident or whether there has been special training for workers who travel.
  • Employee training is critical so people know what they are expected to do. “The procedures about when to call, whom to call, and related steps must be very clear,” she says.

Getting top-level executives involved is critical and typically comes down to money. When executives see money being used for investigations, legal fees, or something similar, they may ask why action was not taken before.

“That’s why any program developed must include 60 to 90 minutes of dedicated training for these executives,” Frederickson says. “This leads to a much better result throughout the organization.”

Nancy Grover is the president of NMG Consulting and the Editor of Workers' Compensation Report, a publication of our parent company, LRP Publications. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]