Resources - Workplace Violence

Education and Training in Violence Prevention

Training is a critical component of any prevention strategy. Training is necessary for employees, supervisors, and the staff members of each department that may be involved in responding to an incident of workplace violence. Training and instruction on workplace violence ensures that all staff are aware of potential hazards and how to protect themselves and their co-workers through established prevention and control measures.

Providing appropriate training informs employees that management will take threats seriously, encourages employees to report incidents, and demonstrates management's commitment to deal with reported incidents.

Training strategies and techniques

While most everyone agrees that there are clear warning signs before most acts of workplace violence, what action should be taken varies. Nevertheless, making information available to your employees about the potential for violence in the workplace, how to recognize the early warning signs of a troubled or potentially violent person, and how to respond to such a person, could save a life.

Not all individuals who are distraught over services (or lack thereof) or their termination of employment, will become violent. The primary type of training that may be beneficial to all employees is that which concentrates on conflict resolution.

Various federal and state laws, or judicial decisions may require the employer to establish written policy and procedures dealing with harassment, as well as the training of employees on sexual or racial harassment, intrusion, company policies prohibiting fighting, the use of drugs or alcohol in the workplace, and the like.

Employers may avoid liability for acts of violence in the workplace where it is shown that the employer conducted training for employees on the recognition of warning signs of potentially violent behavior, as well as precautions which may enhance the personal safety of the employee in the workplace and in the field.

Training strategies

Training sessions conducted by the company's Employee Assistance Program, Security, and Human Resources staffs are particularly helpful, enabling employees to get to know experts within the company who can help them when potentially violent situations arise. Employees and supervisors seek assistance at a much earlier stage when they personally know the company officials who can help them.

Employee training

All employees should know how to report incidents of violent, intimidating, threatening and other disruptive behavior. All employees should also be provided with phone numbers for quick reference during a crisis or an emergency. In addition, workplace violence prevention training for employees may also include topics such as:

  • Explanation of the company's workplace violence policy;
  • Encouragement to report incidents;
  • Ways of preventing or diffusing volatile situations or aggressive behavior;
  • Types of training;
  • How to deal with hostile persons;
  • Managing anger;
  • Techniques and skills to resolve conflicts;
  • Stress management, relaxation techniques, wellness training;
  • Security procedures, e. g., the location and operation of safety devices such as alarm systems;
  • Personal security measures; and
  • Programs operating within the company that can assist employees in resolving conflicts, e. g., the Employee Assistance Program, the ombudsman, and mediation.

Supervisory training

Employers will benefit from training on workplace violence as part of general supervisory training, some conduct separate training sessions on workplace violence, and some include it in crisis management training. Whichever approach is taken, supervisory leadership training should cover:

  • Ways to encourage employees to report incidents in which they feel threatened for any reason by anyone inside or outside the organization
  • Skills in behaving compassionately and supportively towards employees who report incidents
  • Skills in taking disciplinary actions
  • Basic skills in handling crisis situations
  • Basic emergency procedures
  • How to ensure that appropriate screening of pre-employment references has been done.
Special attention should be paid to supervisory training in management skills. The same approaches that create a healthy, productive workplace can also help prevent potentially violent situations. It is important that supervisory training include basic management skills such as:
  • setting clear standards
  • addressing employee problems promptly
  • probationary periods
  • performance counseling
  • administering disciplinary procedures

These interventions can keep difficult situations from turning into major problems. Supervisors don't need to be experts on violent behavior; what is needed is a willingness to seek advice from the experts.

Incident response team training

The members of the incident response team need to be competent in their own assigned duties and they need to know when to call for outside resources. Participating in programs and training sessions sponsored by government and professional organizations, reading professional journals and other literature, and networking with others in the profession are all helpful in dealing with workplace violence situations.

Team members also need to understand enough about each other's professions to allow them to work together effectively. Response team training should allow discussion of policies, legal constraints, technical vocabulary, and other considerations that each profession brings to the interdisciplinary group.

Much of the incident response team training can be accomplished by practicing responses to different scenarios of workplace violence. The team members also need to consult regularly with other personnel within the organization who may be involved in dealing with potentially violent situations. Those who are consulted on an ad hoc basis should receive some appropriate training as well.

Sample Training Topics

Review the program

Extent of the Problem

List statistics relative to your industry here. Use national and statewide information. You can also discuss the crime statistics of the neighborhood the company is in. Some of this information is available in the Overview Section at the beginning of this guidebook.

Risk Factors

Discuss the risk factors in your particular industry here. Look in the section titled "Violent Incidents: Case Scenarios, Potential Risk Factors and Potential Prevention Measures" in this guidebook.

Worksite Analysis

Discuss the violence history of your company. You can use the number of incidents, the rate and/or the types.

Security Hardware

Have the manager of your unit show you security hardware. (Put a checklist here of equipment you have at your company to prevent violence. This might include panic buttons, video cameras, security lighting, etc.)

Work Practice Controls

Discuss policies and procedures you have implemented to minimize violence in your company. Include any written procedures. Be sure to address your company's weapons policy and how to summon help in an emergency.

Follow Up Procedures

Report all assaults. (Include here a copy of the form your company uses to report violent incidents.)

File charges.(Company name) recommends that charges be filed in every case when an employee is assaulted. We will help you to do so including sending witnesses to testify if needed. No reprisals will be taken against any employee who is assaulted or files charges relating to an assault.

Counseling. If a violent incident occurs, all affected staff will be offered counseling through an employee assistance program or other comparable counseling services.

Role Playing Exercises to Defuse Violent Situations

Read the information in the charts below. Then have employees role play a confrontation. During the role play note the signs of escalating behavior and the techniques used to control it. Afterwards have the group discuss their observations. Address the following questions: What went well? What problems were there? What responses would work better?

Write a scenario about a violent incident for a couple of employees to act out. Use a case scenario in this guidebook or make up one appropriate to your company.

Hands-on practice

If the violence in your workplace comes from unarmed people such as patients, you may want to train your employees in self defense and restraining techniques. Have your employees actually try out the techniques. Remember, in cases with armed perpetrators, such as robberies, it is usually safer to submit to the perpetrator's demands.

Five Warning Signs of Escalating Behavior

Warning Signs

Possible Responses


Behavior characterized by bewilderment or distraction. Unsure or uncertain of the next course of action.
  • Listen to their concerns.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Give them factual information.


Behavior characterized by reaction or resistance to information. Impatience. Feeling a sense of defeat in the attempt of accomplishment. May try to bait you.
  • See steps above.
  • Relocate to quiet location or setting.
  • Reassure them.
  • Make a sincere attempt to clarify concerns.


Placing responsibility for problems on everyone else. Accusing or holding you responsible. Finding fault or error with the action of others. They may place blame directly on you. Crossing over to potentially hazardous behavior.
  • See steps above.
  • Disengage and bring second party into the discussion.
  • Use teamwork approach.
  • Draw client back to facts.
  • Use probing questions.
  • Create "Yes" momentum.

ALIGN="CENTER">Anger - Judgment call required

Characterized by a visible change in body posture and disposition. Actions include pounding fists, pointing fingers, shouting or screaming. This signals very risky behavior.
  • Utilize venting techniques.
  • Don’t offer solutions.
  • Don’t argue with comments made.
  • Prepare to evacuate or isolate.
  • Contact supervisor and/or security office.

Hostility - Judgment call required

Physical actions or threats which appear imminent. Acts of physical harm or property damage. Out-of-control behavior signals they have crossed over the line.
  • Disengage and evacuate.
  • Attempt to isolate person if it can be done safely.
  • Alert supervisor and Contact security office immediately.

Personal Conduct to Minimize Violence*

Follow these suggestions in your daily interactions with people to de-escalate potentially violent situations. If at any time a person’s behavior starts to escalate beyond your comfort zone, disengage.


Do Not

Project calmness, move and speak slowly, quietly and confidently.

Be an empathetic listener: Encourage the person to talk and listen patiently.

Focus your attention on the other person to let them know you are interested in what they have to say.

Maintain a relaxed yet attentive posture and position yourself at a right angle rather than directly in front of the other person.

Acknowledge the person’s feelings. Indicate that you can see he/she is upset.

Ask for small, specific favors such as asking the person to move to a quieter area.

Establish ground rules if unreasonable behavior persists. Calmly describe the consequences of any violent behavior.

Use delaying tactics which will give the person time to calm down. For example, offer a drink of water (in a disposable cup).

Be reassuring and point out choices. Break big problems into smaller, more manageable problems.

Accept criticism in a positive way. When a complaint might be true, use statements like "You are probably right" or "It was my fault." If the criticism seems unwarranted, ask clarifying questions.

Ask for his/her recommendations. Repeat back to him/her what you feel he/she is requesting of you.

Arrange yourself so that a visitor cannot block your access to an exit.

Use styles of communication which generate hostility such as apathy, brush off, coldness, condescension, robotism, going strictly by the rules or giving the run-around.

Reject all of a client’s demands from the start.

Pose in challenging stances such as standing directly opposite someone, hands on hips or crossing your arms. Avoid any physical Contact, finger pointing or long periods of fixed eye Contact.

Make sudden movements which can be seen as threatening. Notice the tone, volume and rate of your speech.

Challenge, threaten, or dare the individual. Never belittle the person or make him/her feel foolish.

Criticize or act impatiently toward the agitated individual.

Attempt to bargain with a threatening individual.

Try to make the situation seem less serious than it is.

Make false statements or promises you cannot keep.

Try to impart a lot of technical or complicated information when emotions are high.

Take sides or agree with distortions.

Invade the individual’s personal space. Make sure there is a space of three feet to six feet between you and the person.

*From Combating Workplace Violence: Guidelines for Employers and Law Enforcement. International Association of Chiefs of Police. 1996. Note: OTN is not recommending a specific response to any situation or in any way guaranteeing the effectiveness of a particular response.

Fill the skills gaps

Skills deficiencies exist even in large companies with numerous resources at hand. In some organizations training is needed. However, crisis situations occur infrequently and it is often not practical to maintain in-house expertise for every aspect of the company's response plan.

If this is the case, suggested sources of outside assistance include:

Government agencies.

Get to know specialists in government agencies. They may be an invaluable source for learning about new training materials and effective training approaches.

Local Police.

If you do not have in-house security, get to know your local police departments. Invite them in to work with your planning group. They can recommend security measures. They can tell you about jurisdiction and what they would do if you called them during an incident. They can teach employees.

Other community resources.

Locate and work with resources in your community. For example, if you don't have immediate access to emergency mental health consultation, you can work with your local community mental health department, "hotline" staff, hospital, or emergency crisis center. A nearby university may have faculty who are willing to be consulted.

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).