Resources - Workplace Violence

Initial Assessment and Security Review


There are many different approaches companies can take in developing plans to prevent workplace violence. An approach that works well in one company may not be suitable for another. This module outlines some broad guidelines that can help companies in analyzing their current ability to handle potentially violent situations and filling in any skills gaps that exist.

Conducting an initial assessment through surveys, checklists and analysis of their results can be a great help in determining the effectiveness of current policies/procedures, and the company's ability to handle potentially violent situations is an important and necessary effort. Looking at previous incidents that have occurred at your company and evaluating how effectively they were handled is a good way to start.

Form a Planning Group/Threat Response Team

Successful company violence prevention programs usually start by forming a planning group that may also act as a threat response team that more directly response to incidents. The planning group assesses and evaluates the company's current ability to handle violent incidents and recommends ways to strengthen its response capability.

Typically, members of a planning group include representatives from management and labor, and might also include members from the local community, including:

  • Human Resources
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Union
  • Safety
  • Health/Medical
  • Security/Law Enforcement

While many departments may be represented on the planning group, only a few of them will generally be involved in actually responding to reported incidents. For example, representatives from Human Resources, EAP, and Security often make up an incident response team. Typically, representatives from the other departments will not be involved in responding directly to incidents, but they will act as consultants to the incident response team or play an active role only in certain types of situations.

Staff expertise.

Every company will have different areas of staff expertise. Your company may have employees who have special skills that could be put to good use in a potentially violent situation, such as employees who are skilled in mediation, conflict resolution, crisis counseling, investigations, or threat assessment. Identifying departments and individuals ahead of time, working with them in the planning stages, and agreeing on a coordinated response effort is one of the most effective ways of preparing your company to handle potentially violent situations should they arise.

Working with Your Union

If your company has a union, it should involve the union early on in the process of planning workplace violence programs. Unions are the elected representatives of bargaining unit employees and are legally entitled to negotiate over many conditions of employment of those employees. Although some of the substantive issues relating to workplace violence, including issues concerning internal security, may be outside the duty to bargain, this does not mean that consultation and discussion with the union cannot occur.

Union involvement is particularly appropriate where there are labor-management partnership councils. It is a good practice to involve recognized unions up-front, before decisions are made, so that they can have an opportunity both to express employees' concerns and to bring to bear their expertise and knowledge. Union involvement demonstrates both the company's and union's commitment to the success of a workplace violence program.

Various case studies have been included in this course to help a planning group determine if they are adequately staffed, trained and able to respond to incidents.

Defining violence in the workplace

The nature and extent of your organization's workplace violence program should be based on the results of the initial risk assessment.

First, evaluate past incidents of violence or possible violence (they may not have been classified as "violence"). For example you may not have considered the threatening phone call from an estranged spouse to an employee a "violent incident," but it was.

It can be helpful when identifying risks in your organization to know that violence is usually classified into three categories, each type requiring different interventions.

Type I - Criminal Act. This type of violence involves verbal threats, threatening behavior or physical assaults by an assailant who has no legitimate business relationship to the workplace. The person enters the workplace to commit a robbery or other criminal act. Violence by strangers accounts for most of the fatalities related to workplace violence. Workplaces at risk of violence by strangers commonly include late night retail establishments and taxi cabs. Road rage is becoming more common as a possible source of Type I violence affecting workers who drive as a part of their job.

Type II - Recipient of Service. The person causing violence is either recipient or object of a service provided by workplace. He/she is a current or former client, passenger, or customer.

Type II violence involves verbal threats, threatening behavior or physical assaults by an assailant who either receives services from or is under the custodial supervision of the affected workplace or the victim. Assailants can be current or former customers and clients such as passengers, patients, students, inmates, criminal suspects or prisoners. The workers typically provide direct services to the public, for example, municipal bus or railway drivers, health care and social service providers, teachers and sales personnel. Law enforcement personnel are also at risk of assault from individuals over whom they exert custodial supervision. Violence by customers or clients may occur on a daily basis in certain industries; they represent the majority of non-fatal injuries related to workplace violence.

Type III - Employment Relationship. The person has an employment-related involvement with the workplace:

  • Job related - a current or former employee who is angry about a situation. Job related violence involves verbal threats, threatening behavior or physical assaults by an assailant such as a current or former employee, supervisor or manager. Any workplace can be at risk of violence by a co-worker. In committing a threat or assault, the individual may be seeking revenge for what is perceived as unfair treatment.
  • Non-Job related - a person who has a relationship with a current or former employee. Domestic violence erupting at work is one of the most common types of workplace violence and involves verbal threats, threatening behavior or physical assaults by an assailant who, in the workplace, confronts an individual with whom he or she has or had a personal relationship outside of work. Personal relations include a current or former spouse, lover, relative, friend or acquaintance. The assailant's actions are motivated by perceived difficulties in the relationship or by psychosocial factors that are specific to the assailant.

Determining risk factors for workplace violence

The types of violence identified in the previous section illustrate different characteristics of workplace violence and the ways violence may present itself. The significance of these types is that each involves somewhat different risk factors and means of preventing or responding to the potential violent incident.

A risk factor is a condition or circumstance that may increase the likelihood of violence occurring in a particular setting. For instance, handling money in a retail service makes that workplace a more likely target for robbery, the most common kind of violence by strangers in the workplace. An attorney's office, where all payments are received by check and money is not directly handled, would not present the same kind of target and would not be at the same degree of risk of violence due to the handling of money.

Each risk factor only represents a potential for an increased likelihood of violence. No risk factor, or combination of risk factors, guarantees that violence will occur or that its incidence will increase. However, the presence of the risk factors listed below, particularly of several in combination, increases the likelihood that violence will occur.

  • Do employees have Contact with the public?
  • Does an exchange of money occur?*
  • Is there selling/dispensing alcohol or drugs?
  • What is the nature of delivery of passengers, goods or services?
  • Is the workplace mobile? (such as a taxicab or police cruiser)
  • Is there exposure to unstable or volatile persons? (such as in health care, social services or criminal justice settings)
  • Do any employees work alone or in small numbers?*
  • Do employees work late at night or during early morning hours?*
  • Do employees work in high-crime areas. *
  • Do employees guarding valuable property or possessions?> *
  • Do employees work in community settings?*
  • Are your employees deciding on benefits, or in some other way controlling a person's future, well-being, or freedom? (such as a government agency)

* Identified by NIOSH as risk factor for homicide (CDC/NIOSH Alert, 1993)

Conducting a security survey

It's important, as part of the initial assessment, to conduct an initial security survey to determine whether modifications need to be made in the physical aspects of your business. Again this is highly dependent upon the location and type of business. Precautions that may be suitable for some workplaces include:

  • Limiting the access, as appropriate, to the workplace by former employees or clients.
  • Developing policies regarding visitor access within facilities. For example, if warranted, require visitors to sign in and out at reception, wear an identification badge while on the business premises, and/or be escorted.

Work out in advance all jurisdictional issues among the various security and law enforcement entities that may be involved should an emergency occur. There have been cases where an employee has called 911 and critical moments were lost because in-house law enforcement were the ones with jurisdiction, rather than the local police. In other cases, employees called their in-house security guards and time was lost while local police were being Contacted because the security guards did not carry firearms.

Source: OPM Office of Personnel Management

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).