Skip Navigation
Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Develop a Violence Prevention Plan (VPP)


After completing the initial workplace assessment for risk factors and developing a written policy, the next step is to develop a comprehensive written Violence Prevention Plan (See a sample) to carry out the policy. One major component of any workplace violence prevention plan is, of course, prevention. This module will focus on important subjects which should be included in the plan:

  • identifying warning signs of violence
  • control measures to reduce the probability or prevent violence

An employer may choose to create a separate workplace violence prevention plan or incorporate this information into other company documents. This may include the company's accident prevention plan or an employee handbook.

Workplace Violence Warning Signs

One of the common types of workplace violence is that among co-workers. In addition, a high percentage of violent incidents are perpetrated by individuals from outside the workplace. This includes situations such as domestic violence, bomb threats, and violence by customers.

While they are often preventable, it is still difficult to determine whether or not any particular workplace situation is potentially violent. This is an emotional and complex topic, and decisions about what to do in certain situations are not always straightforward or made in a clearheaded state of mind. In many cases, employees ignore warning signs because they believe they are not important, "that's just the way Joe is," or that it is none of their business. In other situations, employees react based on fear and what they believe is the profile of a potentially violent person, not necessarily observed actual behavior. Another major hindrance is not knowing where to go to get help in making determinations regarding real and potential risks.

Actual threats should always be taken seriously and responded to immediately. When there is not an actual threat, judgment and senses should be trusted. The "gut feeling" that one gets when talking to people should be respected. If one feels that someone is dangerous, take the proper precautions.

1. If you have a "gut feeling" that someone is dangerous, what should you do about it?

a. Respect it and take precautions
b. Ignore it because you can't trust your feelings
c. Do nothing because you don't have the facts
d. Immediately call 911 for police response

Next Section

Forms of Violence Among Co-workers

There are many forms of workplace violence among co-workers. Unfortunately, the one form that receives the most attention is workplace homicide. But there are far more incidents of violence that do not involve casualties but have the same traumatic effects.

Forms of Violence Among Co-workers

There are many forms of workplace violence among co-workers. Unfortunately, the one form that receives the most attention is workplace homicide. But there are far more incidents of violence that do not involve casualties but have the same traumatic effects.

Click on the button to see some examples of the most frequently encountered situations among co-workers.

  • concealing or using a weapon;
  • physical assault upon oneself or another person;
  • actions which damage, destroy, or sabotage property;
  • intimidating or frightening others
  • harassing, stalking, or showing undue focus on another person;
  • physically aggressive acts, such as shaking fists at another person, kicking, pounding on desks, punching a wall, angrily jumping up and down, screaming at others;
  • verbal abuse including offensive, profane and vulgar language; and
  • threats (direct or indirect), whether made in person or through letters, phone calls, or electronic mail.

Other Forms of Workplace Violence

It is important to recognize that violent incidents in the workplace may include acts of domestic violence. Often, co-workers and supervisors believe that domestic violence is something that is not their concern, but a private family matter that should not be brought to work. But the problem does spill over into the workplace. Domestic violence accounted for 27% of violent events in the workplace. If the victim has sought shelter or a restraining order, the workplace is frequently the place s/he can be found. It is not uncommon for the perpetrator to show up at the work site to carry out acts of violence against the partner or anyone trying to protect that person.

Because of the nature of the services provided, there are also incidents of workplace violence perpetrated by clients/customers, particularly in enforcement and investigative settings. Finally, bomb threats make up an increasing percentage of workplace violence incidents. Many threats are made against individuals. Others allege that bombs have been planted in Federal facilities. Most threats are made by telephone.

2. Which of the following is a form of workplace violence that receives the most attention?

a. Domestic violence
b. Intimidation and bullying
c. Verbal abuse
d. Workplace homicide

Next Section

Levels of Violence and Response

Potential or actual violent situations among employees usually escalate if not defused. Violence and the warning signs that typically occur can usually be identified at three levels. It should be noted that anyone or combination of warning signs at the three levels may be indicative of a potentially violent situation. The following is an attempt to delineate warning signs and the appropriate response. There is no fail-safe way of presenting this information to employees. Employees will have to make a judgment call as to the appropriate action to take by discerning and evaluating the given situation.

Level One (Early Warning Signs)

The person is:

  • intimidating/bullying;
  • discourteous/disrespectful;
  • uncooperative; and/or
  • verbally abusive.
Response When Early Warning Signs Occur at Level One
  • Observe the behavior in question.
  • Report concerns to your supervisor to seek help in assessing/responding to the situation. If the offending employee is your immediate supervisor, notify the next level of supervision. If the offending person is not an employee, your supervisor is still the appropriate individual to notify.
  • Document the observed behavior in question.
  • Click on the button to see the procedures a supervisor can use when meeting with offending employees to discuss concerns.

    1. Schedule private time and place.
    2. Coordinate any necessary union participation.
    3. Get straight to the point.
    4. Ask the employee for his or her input.
    5. Ask the employee what should be done about the behavior.
    6. Ask how you can help.
    7. Identify the performance and/or conduct problems that are of concern.
    8. Identify the steps you would like to see to correct problems.
    9. Set limits on what is acceptable behavior and performance.
    10. Establish time frames to make changes and subsequent consequences for failing to correct behavior and/or performance.
    11. Department's policies.

3. Who should you notify if the offending person in a violent incident is not an employee?

a. A co-worker
b. Your supervisor
c. Any supervisor or manager
d. Initially, no one

Next Section

Levels of Violence and Response (Continued)

Level Two (Escalation of the Situation)

The person:

  • argues with customers, vendors, co-workers, and management;
  • refuses to obey agency policies and procedures;
  • sabotages equipment and steals property for revenge;
  • verbalizes wishes to hurt co-workers and/or management;
  • sends threatening notes to co-worker(s) and/or management; and/or
  • sees self as victimized by management (me against them).

Response When the Situation Has Escalated to Level Two

  • If warranted, Call 911 and other appropriate emergency contacts (such as Federal Protective Service) for that particular facility, particularly if the situation requires immediate medical and/or law enforcement personnel.
  • Immediately Contact the supervisor and, if needed, the supervisor will contact other appropriate official(s) such as functional area experts to seek help in assessing/responding to the situation.
  • If necessary, Secure your own safety and the safety of others, including contacting people who are in danger (make sure emergency numbers for employees are kept up-to-date and accessible).
  • Document the observed behavior in question.
  • The supervisor should Meet with the employee to discuss concerns and, if appropriate, begin or continue progressive discipline. Click on the button to see the procedures a supervisor can use when meeting with offending employees to discuss concerns.

    1. Call for assistance in assessing/responding, if needed.
    2. Avoid an audience when dealing with the employee.
    3. Remain calm, speaking slowly, softly, and clearly.
    4. Ask the employee to sit down; see if s/he is able to follow directions.
    5. Ask questions relevant to the employee's complaint such as:
    6. What can you do to try to regain control of yourself?
    7. What can I do to help you regain control?
    8. What do you hope to gain by committing violence?
    9. Why do you believe you need to be violent to achieve that?
    10. Try to direct the aggressive tendencies into another kind of behavior so that the employee sees s/he has choices about how to react.

4. Which level of violence is demonstrated when an employee sabotages equipment and steals property for revenge?

a. Level One (Early Warning Signs)
b. Level Two (Escalation of the Situation)
c. Level Three (Further Escalation)
d. Level four (Domestic Violence)

Next Section

Levels of Violence and Response (Continued)

Level Three (Further Escalation - May Result in an Emergency Response)

The person displays intense anger resulting in:

  • suicidal threats;
  • physical fights;
  • destruction of property;
  • display of extreme rage; and/or
  • utilization of weapons to harm others.

Response When Situation is a Level Three Emergency

Any individual observing violent or threatening behavior which poses an immediate danger to persons or property is expected to:

  • Call 911 and other appropriate emergency contacts (such as Federal Protective Service) for that particular facility, particularly if the situation requires immediate medical and/or law enforcement personnel.
  • Remain Calm and Contact supervisor.
  • Secure your personal safety first.
  • Leave the area if your safety is at risk.
  • Cooperate with law enforcement personnel when they have responded to the situation.

Once law enforcement personnel are on the scene, they will assume control of the situation. Witnesses should be prepared to provide a description of the violent or threatening individual, details of what was observed, and the exact location of the incident.

  • Document the observed behavior in question.
  • Supervisor, where needed, will contact functional area experts and will follow the procedures described in the Level Two section.

5. Which of the following is an example of Level Three (Further Escalation) violence that may result in an emergency response?

a. Arguing with customers, vendors, and others
b. Destruction of property
c. Sending threatening notes
d. Verbal abuse and intimidating behavior

Next Section

Domestic Violence

Except when those involved in domestic violence are co-workers, most incidents are perpetrated by non-employees. It is, therefore, unlikely that the levels of violence described earlier will be evident. There will, however, be early warning signs that this type of violence is escalating outside the workplace. The victim may show symptoms such as increased fear, emotional episodes, and/or signs of physical injury. Victims, as well as perpetrators, also show signs of work performance deterioration. By intervening when the early warning signs occur, even though violence may not yet have been committed at work, a serious incident may be prevented.

Response Involving Domestic Violence

In the event the perpetrator shows up at work with the intent of harming the employee and any others who happen to be in the way or involved, follow the procedures described in Level Three in responding to the immediate crisis.

If it is known that an employee is being affected by domestic violence, whether or not the perpetrator has shown up at work, it is important to provide support and assistance. Not only is the person at risk for more and usually escalated violence, but it has an impact on the safety and productivity of the entire work force.

Click on the button to see tips for supervisors when helping an employee affected by domestic violence.

  • Talk with the employee about your concern of the possibility of the violence extending into the workplace and Recommend that the employee contact the Employee Assistance Program or the Department's resource and referral service, WorkLife4You (formerly LifeCare), for assistance in dealing with the problem.
  • Recommend that the employee call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for more information about domestic violence or to help find local resources.
  • Contact the Employee Assistance Program for more information and/or assistance, if needed.
  • Recommend that a workplace safety plan be developed in case an incident occurs at the workplace. Think about the safety of the individual as well as everyone around her/him. Don't be a hero if the perpetrator shows up at work. Follow the safety plan and go for help.

6. Increased employee fear, emotional episodes, and signs of physical injury _____.

a. do not justify intervention
b. are not important until they are self-reported
c. are strong indicators of pending physical violence
d. may be early warning signs of domestic violence

Next Section

Proactive Control Measures

The written violence prevention plan should describe proactive methods and means to limit or reduce the potential for workplace violence. The plan should direct regular risk assessments of facilities and address areas where simple improvements can be made that would greatly increase the safety of employees and visitors. Once existing or potential hazards are identified through the hazard assessment, then hazard prevention and control measures can be identified and implemented. These measures may include (in order of general preference):

Engineering Controls

Redesigning, installing, substituting materials, equipment, machinery, workstations, etc. (things we use)in the workplace.

Examples include:

  • Install surveillance cameras, silent alarms, metal detectors, or bullet-proof glass.
  • Improve lighting in and around the place of work, including parking lots.
  • Have reception areas that can be locked to prevent outsiders from going into the offices when no receptionist is on duty.

Click on the button to see more examples of engineering controls.

  • Assess any plans for new construction or physical changes to the facility or workplace to eliminate or reduce security hazards.
  • Install and regularly maintain alarm systems and other security devices, response buttons, hand-held alarms or noise devices, cellular phones, and private channel radios where risk is apparent or may be anticipated, and arrange for a reliable response system when an alarm is triggered.
  • Provide metal detectors installed or hand-held, where appropriate to identify guns, knives, or other weapons, according to the recommendations of security consultants.
  • Use a closed-circuit video recording for high-risk areas on a 2-hour basis. Public safety is a greater concern than privacy in these situations.
  • Place curved mirrors at hallway intersections or concealed areas.
  • Enclose work stations, and install deep service counters or bullet-resistant shatter-proof glass in reception areas, triage, admitting, or client service rooms, where appropriate.
  • Provide employee "safe rooms" for use during emergencies.
  • Medical facilities. Establish "time-out" or seclusion areas with high ceilings without grids for patients acting out and establish separate rooms for criminal patients.
  • Medical facilities. Provide client or patient waiting rooms designed to maximize comfort and minimize stress. Ensure that counseling or patient care rooms have two exits.
  • Limit access to employee counseling rooms and treatment rooms controlled by using locked doors.
  • Arrange furniture to prevent entrapment of employees.
  • In interview rooms or crisis treatment areas, furniture should be minimal, lightweight, without sharp corners or edges, and/or affixed to the floor.
  • Limit the number of pictures, vases, ashtrays, or other items that can be used as weapons.
  • Provide lockable and secure bathrooms for staff members separate from public areas.
  • Lock all unused doors to limit access, in accordance with local fire codes.
  • Install bright, effective lighting indoors and outdoors.
  • Replace burned-out lights, broken windows, and locks.
  • Keep automobiles, if used in the field, well-maintained. Always lock automobiles.

Administrative/Work Practice Controls

Develop safe/secure processes and procedures (things we do/don't do) in the workplace.

Examples include:

  • Establish sign-in procedures for visitors.
  • Implement pre-employment screening procedures to reduce the number of personnel prone to exhibiting violent behaviors
  • Develop employee assistance programs.
  • Arrange escorts for employees who are concerned about walking to and from the parking lot.

Click on the button to see more examples of administrative/work practice controls.

  • State clearly to employees, clients, and patients that violence is not permitted or tolerated.
  • Establish liaison with local police and state prosecutors. Report all incidents of violence. Provide police with physical layouts of facilities to expedite investigations.
  • Require employees to report all assaults or threats to a supervisor or manager (e.g., can be confidential interview). Keep log books and reports of such incidents to help in determining any necessary actions to prevent similar occurrences.
  • Advise and assist employees, if needed, of company procedures for requesting police assistance or filing charges when assaulted.
  • Provide management support during emergencies. Respond promptly to all complaints. Set up a trained response team to respond to emergencies.
  • Use properly trained security officers, when necessary, to deal with aggressive behavior. Follow written security procedures.
  • Provide sensitive and timely information to persons waiting in line or in waiting rooms. Adopt measures to decrease waiting time.
  • Establish a list of "restricted visitors" for previous employees, relatives, and patients with a history of violence. Copies should be available at security checkpoints, nurses' stations, and visitor sign-in areas. Review and revise visitor check systems, when necessary. Limit information given to outsiders on hospitalized victims of violence.
  • Establish policies and procedures for secured areas, and emergency evacuations, and for monitoring high-risk area at night.
  • Treat and/or interview aggressive or agitated clients in relatively open areas that still maintain privacy and confidentiality (e.g., rooms with removable partitions).
  • Use case management conferences with co-workers and supervisors to discuss ways to effectively respond to potentially violent employees or patients.
  • Prepare contingency plans to handle employees, clients, or patients who are "acting out' or making verbal or physical attacks or threats. Consider using certified employee assistance professionals (CEAPs) or in-house social service or occupational health service staff to help diffuse employee, client or patient.
  • Discourage employees from wearing jewelry to help prevent possible strangulation in confrontational situations. Community workers should carry only required identification and money.
  • Periodically survey the facility to remove tools or possessions left by visitors or maintenance staff which could be used inappropriately by patients.
  • Provide staff with identification badges, preferably without last names, to readily verify~ employment.
  • Discourage employees from carrying keys, pens, or other items that could be used as weapons.
  • Provide staff members with security escorts to parking areas in evening or late hours.
  • Parking areas should be highly visible, well-lighted, and safely accessible to the building.
  • Use the "buddy system," especially when personal safety may be threatened.
  • Encourage home health care providers, social service workers, and others to avoid threatening situations.
  • Staff should exercise extra care in elevators, stairwells and unfamiliar locations.
  • Develop policies and procedures covering work at remote/other worksites including the refusal to provide services in a clearly hazardous situation.
  • Establish a daily work plan for field workers to keep a designated Contact person informed about workers' whereabouts throughout the workday. If an employee does not report in, the Contact person should follow-up.
  • Conduct a comprehensive post-incident evaluation, including psychological as well as medical treatment, for employees who have been subjected to abusive behavior.

Medical Facilities

  • Ensure adequate and properly trained staff for restraining patients or clients.
  • Ensure adequate and qualified staff coverage at all times. Times of greatest risk occur during patient transfers, emergency responses, meal times, and at night. Locales with the greatest risk include admission units and crisis or acute care units. Other risks include admission of patients with a history of violent behavior or gang activity.
  • Institute a sign-in procedure with passes for visitors, especially in a newborn nursery or pediatric department. Enforce visitor hours and procedures.
  • Supervise the movement of psychiatric clients and patients throughout the facility. Control access to facilities other than waiting rooms, particularly drug storage or pharmacy areas.
  • Prohibit employees from working alone in emergency areas or walk-in clinics, particularly at night or when assistance is unavailable. Employees should never enter seclusion rooms alone.
  • Ascertain the behavioral history of new and transferred patients to learn about any past violent or assaultive behaviors. Establish a system such as chart tags, log books, or verbal census reports to identify patients and clients with assaultive behavior problems, keeping in mind patient confidentiality and worker safety issues. Update as needed.
  • Transfer assaultive clients to "acute care units," "criminal units," or other more restrictive settings.
  • Make sure that nurses and/or physicians are not alone when performing intimate physical examinations of patients.

Personal Protective Equipment

Equipment we wear to protect us from harm.

Examples include:

  • Provide bullet-proof vests for police and security personnel.

Posting applicable laws, such as those prohibiting assaults and stalking, in visible locations may also serve as a prevention measure.

7. Pre-employment screening procedures to reduce the number of personnel prone to exhibiting violent behaviors is an example of _____.

a. engineering controls
b. administrative controls
c. physical controls
d. personal protective equipment

Next Section

Prevention Measures

Consider using one or more of the following prevention measures that help design the workplace and develop procedures to reduce risk factors for violence.

Click on the buttons to see prevention measures for Type I, Type II, and Type III violence.

Type I (Criminal Violence) Prevention Measures

  • Training (include de-escalation techniques appropriate to your industry)
  • Post signs stating cash register only contains minimal cash
  • Leave a clear, unobstructed view of cash register from street
  • Have a drop safe, a limited access safe or comparable device
  • Address adequate outside lighting
  • Examine and address employee isolation factors
  • Provide security personnel
  • Communication method to alert police/security
  • Increase police patrol in the area
  • Post laws against assault, stalking, or other violent acts

Potential Type II (Recipient of Service) Prevention Measures

  • Training (including de-escalation techniques appropriate to your industry)
  • Examine and address employee isolation factors
  • Quick communication method to alert security
  • Eliminate easy access to potential weapons
  • Client referral/assistance programs
  • Set up worksite so employees are not trapped from exiting
  • Provide security personnel
  • Post laws against assault, stalking, or other violent acts
  • Employee reporting systems

Potential Type III (Employment Relationship) Prevention Measures

  • Training (including de-escalation techniques appropriate to your industry)
  • Enforced "no tolerance" policy for workplace violence
  • Management strategy for layoffs
  • Management policy for disciplinary actions
  • Access to employee assistance program or other counseling services
  • Enforced policy prohibiting weapons
  • Provide security personnel
  • Post laws against assault, stalking or other violent acts
  • Restraining orders
  • Control access to worksite
  • Access to consultation with employer, employee assistance program or other counseling program
  • Reporting procedures
  • Relocating within worksite where possible
  • Necessary staff notification
  • Provide security personnel
  • Policy regarding restraining orders

Your assessment should include a regular review and maintenance of appropriate physical security measures, such as electronic access control systems, and video cameras, in a manner consistent with applicable state and federal laws. Don't overreact, not everybody needs metal detectors. However it is important that all employee receive training in de-escalation techniques for all types of violence. Assess your risk factors for an accurate determination. If no money, drugs, or other high risk situations are present, detectors and cameras may be excessive.

8. Training on de-escalation techniques is an important violence prevention measure for _____.

a. all types of violence
b. Type I criminal violence
c. Type II recipient of service violence
d. Type III employment relationship violence

Next Section

Administrative Control Strategies

Companies need to have programs in place to assist troubled employees and address managerial problems before threats or violence occur. Administrative controls include all of the following programs:

  • Pre-Employment Screening. Use a job application form that includes an appropriate waiver and release (permitting the employer to verify the information reported on the application). Prior to hiring any applicant, check references and inquire about any prior incidents of violence. In addition, conduct thorough background checks and use drug screening to the extent practicable. In developing an employee screening process, remember the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and related state statutes prohibit employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with physical or mental disabilities. While federal law and judicial decisions provide that an employer may disqualify an employee who is a danger to self or others, the employer may be obliged to investigate a claim of disability to determine whether dismissal is necessary for the protection of the employee or others in the workplace.
  • Employee Assistance Program. Consider providing a confidential EAP to address substance abuse, emotional, marital, and financial problems, or provide employees with a list of relevant community resources. Employees, supervisors, and managers should be actively encouraged to use these services. If an employee is going to be facing termination, for whatever reason, transition services such as EAP counseling should be considered.
  • Incident Reporting. Encourage victims of threats and violence outside the workplace to notify their employers about the incident when warranted so their employers can take appropriate measures to help protect them and their co-workers from possible future incidents of violence at the worksite. Upon notification, employers should provide receptionists and other front-line personnel, having a need to know, a description or picture of the alleged offender and inform them what actions they should take in the event that the individual seeks entry or contact.
  • Exit Interviews. Conduct exit interviews when employees retire, quit, or are transferred or terminated, to identify potential violence-related security or management problems.
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). Some companies use ombudsman programs, facilitation, mediation, and other methods of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) as preventive strategies in their workplace violence programs. ADR approaches often involve a neutral third party who can assist disputing parties resolve disagreements. ADR is most helpful in workplace violence programs at the point when a problem first surfaces, i. e., before an employee's conduct rises to a level that warrants a disciplinary action.

9. Employee assistance programs, incident reporting, and exit interviews are examples of _____.

a. engineering controls
b. administrative controls
c. work-practice controls
d. generic hazard controls

Next Section

Take a Flexible Team Approach

It may have become apparent in the case studies in Module 1 that plans for a coordinated response to reported incidents must be kept flexible. Responsibility for overall coordination and direction is usually assigned to one individual or one department. The coordinator must have the flexibility to use the plan as a guideline, not a mandatory set of procedures. More important, the coordinator must have the flexibility to tailor the recommended response to the particular situation. It is important to recognize that threatening situations often require creative responses. Given this, the importance of flexibility cannot be overemphasized.

The case studies highlight the need for backup plans in situations calling for an immediate response where the individual responsible for a certain aspect of the response effort has gone home for the day, is on vacation, or is out of the building at a meeting.

Taking a team approach in responding to a potentially violent situation is an ideal way to provide backup coverage. A flexible team approach ensures that all staff in Employee Relations, the Employee Assistance Program, Security, and other departments are thoroughly trained and prepared to work together with management to deal with potentially violent situations. It ensures coverage, regardless of which staffer in each of the departments is on duty when the incident occurs.

10. Two important approaches needed when responding to workplace violence include _____.

a. responsiveness and speed
b. chain of command and rigid response
c. enforcement and rules
d. flexibility and teamwork

Next Section

Take Advantage of Community Resources

Finally, there are many programs and resources in the community such as police, security experts, and local organizations that can help you develop your workplace violence prevention plan. Some examples follow:

  • Police. Invite local police into your firm to review the written violence prevention plan. They may also promote good relations and become more familiar with your facility. The police can explain what actions they typically take during incidents involving threats and violence. Such visits can help your firm work better with police when incidents do occur.
  • Security experts. Use security experts to evaluate your written plan and educate employees on how to prevent violence in the workplace. Such experts can provide crime prevention information, conduct building security inspections, and teach employees how to avoid being a victim.
  • Local organizations. Consider using local associations and community organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, security organizations, and law enforcement groups, as a resource in order to stay abreast of crime trends and prevention techniques. Communicate to your employees those issues and trends which pose a significant threat.

Developing a written plan that clearly informs and directs is crucial to an effective violence prevention program.

11. Which community resource can evaluate your violence prevention plan and provide crime prevention information?

a. ASSP and other safety organizations
b. OSHA agencies
c. Security experts
d. Local Chamber of Commerce

Check your Work

Read the material in each section to find the correct answer to each quiz question. After answering all the questions, click on the "Check Quiz Answers" button to grade your quiz and see your score. You will receive a message if you forgot to answer one of the questions. After clicking the button, the questions you missed will be listed below. You can correct any missed questions and check your answers again.