Violence in the Workplace

You may have made the statement, "it will never happen here". People probably said the same thing at a truck engine plant in suburban Chicago where a former employee gunned down four workers before turning the gun on himself. Certainly no one at the Internet consulting firm near Boston expected that a man would fatally wound seven co-workers. The deadly consequences of workplace violence are without boundaries affecting white and blue-collar workers in cities and the suburbs. While the odds are good that such violence will never surface at your place of business, are you willing to gamble?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that homicides were the third highest cause of on-the-job deaths. Statistics show that 54% of workplace violence is one employee against another employee, while 13% of such incidents involve employees attacking their supervisors.

Violence in the workplace is manifested in different ways. Here's a breakdown:

69% Physical altercations
17% Shootings
8% Stabbings
6% Sexual assaults

What causes such violence? Here are some factors that have been linked to workplace violence:

Personality conflicts
Family and marital problems
Drug and alcohol abuse
Stress
Firings and layoffs
Prior criminal history

Be on the lookout for some of these warning signs of potentially violent persons:

Intimidating behavior
Threats to get even; threats of violence
Holds a grudge
Paranoia, extreme anxiety or depression
Alcohol or drug abuse
History of violent acts
Owns and talks constantly about weapons

So what can an employer do? Here are some steps to consider in your efforts to minimize the risk of workplace violence:

Conduct an organizational risk assessment and establish a workplace violence prevention policy. The policy should stress that violence of any kind will not be tolerated. The policy should also define the spectrum of workplace violence (ranging from harassment and threats to physical assaults), and delineate employees' responsibilities for recognizing and reporting violent acts or threats of violence.
Improve hiring practices. Utilize background checks and pre-employment testing.
Train continually. Train all employees in the warning signs of aggressive or violent behavior. Train managers in threat assessment and techniques for defusing volatile situations.
Implement grievance procedures, open door policies, etc. to facilitate resolution of workplace problems before they escalate.
Consider offering an Employee Assistance Program through a contractual arrangement. Employees can seek confidential help with personal or workplace problems.

SESCO Management Consultants is available to assist you with issues related to workplace violence. You may contact us at by phone at 423-764-4127 or by e-mail at sesco@sescomgt.com .