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
- 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
- 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
Threats might be phrased in several different
- Direct Threats: Ill get
him for this. Ill get even with him; he did me wrong. Ill kill him; hes
- Conditional Threats: If they
fire me, the system will crash. If they fire me, theyll 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
- Preoccupied with weapons and/or acts of
- Is intrigued by previous workplace violence
- 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)
1. Information is from Department of Energy Security
Education Special Interest Group.