Preventing Violence

Acts of extreme violence in the workplace are often preceded by some sign of extreme emotional pain, stress, mental disturbance or some previous incident of violent behavior. Your awareness of these warning signs and action to report them if observed will help protect the safety of yourself and your co-workers.1

The following is a checklist for some actions that warrant reporting:

  • Threats to harm others or endanger their safety.
  • Threats to destroy property.
  • Physical assaults.
  • Behaviors indicating potential for future violence (throwing things, shaking fists, destroying property).
  • Obsession with a particular person(s), stalking, unwanted phone calls.
  • Other unusual behavior that might signal emotional distress.
  • Suicide threats. (See Suicide Crisis Intervention.)
  • Verbal harassment. Vulgar/profane language; highly disparaging or derogatory remarks, slurs; offensive sexual flirtations and propositions; verbal intimidation; exaggerated criticism, name calling.
  • Visual harassment. Derogatory or offensive posters, cartoons, publications or drawing.
  • Prohibited items. Firearms, switchblade knives or knives with blades longer than four inches; any object for the purpose of injuring or intimidating.

Threats might be phrased in several different ways.

  • Direct Threats: I’ll get him for this. I’ll get even with him; he did me wrong. I’ll kill him; he’s gonna pay.
  • Conditional Threats: If they fire me, the system will crash. If they fire me, they’ll never find the files. If they fire me, this place will look like the post office.
  • Veiled Threats: If the computer files were erased, there would be no project. Misplaced files are hard to find. Just a few mistakes and the whole system will crash.

Threatening or violent behavior is often triggered by some event that contributes to already existing stress or, as the saying goes, adds the straw that breaks the camel's back. This might include an argument with a supervisor over a poor performance review, problem with a co-worker, failure to receive an expected promotion, termination of employment, or some non-work-related crisis.

There is no exact method to predict if or when an irate or disgruntled worker will become violent. One or more warning signs may be displayed before a person becomes violent but this does not necessarily indicate that a person will become violent. Their stress might be released through any one of a variety of behaviors -- constructive as well as counterproductive.

In addition to the overt actions in the checklist above, the following individual characteristics may be a basis for concern:

  • Difficulty controlling temper; displays unwarranted anger.
  • Preoccupied with weapons and/or acts of violence.
  • Is intrigued by previous workplace violence incidents.
  • Difficulty accepting authority/criticism.
  • Holds grudges, especially against supervisors.
  • Is argumentative/uncooperative.
  • History of interpersonal conflict.
  • Expresses extreme opinions and attitudes.

Remember that you are one of the keys for preventing workplace violence in our organization. You are in the best position to observe a potential problem in your working environment on a daily basis. If you have a concern, report it. Additional information on preventing and dealing with workplace violence is available on the Occupational Safety & Health Admininistration (OSHA) website at

1. Information is from Department of Energy Security Education Special Interest Group.



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