Workplace Violence: Training, Prevention & Response

Copyright Samaritan Protective Services, Woodbridge, Virginia

The threat of violence in the workplace continues to increase.  It is a very real hazard that does not discriminate between people, type of work environment or location.  Security Managers and Human Resources personnel must have a detailed plan of action in order to prevent violence in the workplace.

2021 has proven to be challenging for corporate risk managers.  This year alone, there have been numerous attacks in diverse workplaces.  Here are a few examples:

  • May 26th, 2021 – A mass shooting took place in San Jose, California at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. The gunman killed 9 people and later committed suicide.  The subject had been employed since 2012.
  • Aug 3rd, 2021 – Gunman entered a dentist office in Tennessee shortly before 6am and opened fire, striking a manager and two Security Officers. Subject was a former employee and subsequently killed by responding law enforcement.
  • August 27th, 2021 – A Department of Public Works employee in Mt. Vernon, New York fatally stabbed a coworker after a dispute.
  • September 23rd, 2021 – Active shooter killed one person and wounded 12 people in a Kroger grocery store prior to taking his own life.  The shooter was identified as a former employee, terminated the previous Thursday

What is Workplace Violence?

 The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines Workplace Violence as: “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide”.

Workplace Violence

Recognize the Stressors & Signs

There are many stressors that can lead someone toward a path of violence.  According to the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, more than one stressor on an individual has typically manifested prior to an act of violence.

Stressors may include:

  • Diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health problems
  • Financial difficulties
  • Job performance or issues
  • Relationship conflicts with friends, parents or coworkers
  • Spousal problems
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Criminal or Civil concerns
  • Loss of a close friend or family member
  • Sexual Frustration

Typically, there are pronounced and visible warning signs that someone could be planning or thinking about committing violence.  Supervisors, corporate security managers and co-workers should be keenly aware of “red-flags”.

Workplace Protection

Signs may include:

  • Making direct threats toward people or an organization
  • Displaying an unusually angry or argumentative demeanor and easily agitated
  • Shares an interest in previous attacks or acts of violence
  • Minimizes the value of human life
  • Makes vindictive or vengeful statements, such as “He will get what he deserves”
  • Displays symptoms of chronic depression; lethargic, not engaged, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, loss of confidence, etc.
  • Makes suicidal comments
  • Has a known drug or alcohol addiction
  • Fascination or obsession over weapons and dangerous items
  • Is nervous, paranoid and always seems “on edge”

None of these items alone mean that a person is actively planning an attack or is dangerous.  That being said, multiple warning signs can be an indicator that the individual may be unstable and intervention could be required to ensure the safety of all, including the person concerned.

Planning & Preparation

Most might believe that acts of violence in the workplace are random, hastily thought out and executed planning.  This can sometimes be true; however, data shows that most assailants conduct extensive planning.  The FBI published surprising statistics regarding assailant planning and preparation:

Planning: The act of making the decision to carry out an attack, justifying the motive, selecting targets and conducting research.

 Preparing: The act of gaining materials (firearms, explosives, knives, etc.), dry runs, testing security vulnerabilities and finalizing personal affairs.

Planning Against Workplace Violence
Planning Against Workplace Violence
Planning Time Preparation Time
26% 1-2 Months 28% Less Than 24 Hours
18% 3-5 Months 26% 1 – 7 Days
15% 8-30 Days 22% 8 – 30 Days
12% Less Than 24 Hours 11% 1-2 Months
12% 1-7 Days 9% 3-5 Months
9% 6-12 Months 4% 6-12 Months
8% 13-24 Months

*Percentages rounded

Prevention of Workplace Violence

Preventing acts of violence in the workplace does not happen by accident.  Prevention and response require a deliberate, calculated and comprehensive plan to be effective.

  • Have a Plan – Corporate SOP should have a comprehensive plan in place to address the identification of threats, intervention and prevention of workplace violence. Does the business continuity or facility security plans have protocols in place for what to do during an active attack situation?  Has a workplace vulnerability assessment been completed?
  • Employee Training – According to a 2019 SHRM study, 19% of HR personnel do not know what to do or how to handle potential workplace violence and 55% of workers are unsure or unaware of their employers’ workplace violence prevention strategy. It is important to have regular, relevant and tailored training programs in place for the workforce and corporate leadership.
  • Human Resources & Security Cooperation – Human Resources and Security personnel should play an active role in the prevention of workplace violence. From the hiring process to identification of red flags and intervention, a constant line of communication should be in place.  Many companies offer programs to reduce stress, access to mental health professionals and an open-door policy to air and resolve grievances.  The strategies used should be tailored to the company, workforce and potential vulnerabilities.  It takes teamwork at all levels to reduce risk across the board.
  • Response – It is imperative to have a detailed plan of how to respond to an active attack. Close coordination with local law enforcement, employee response training (run, hide, fight) and third-party risk managers are valuable tools to reduce risk and respond appropriately.
Prevention of Workplace Violence

Contact Samaritan Protective Services today for a free consultation.

Samaritan Protective Services is located at 3985 Prince William Parkway, Suite 203, Woodbridge, VA 22192. Founded in 2015, we specialize in Executive Protection, Corporate Security, Workplace Violence Protection, Bodyguard, Armed Security, Close Protection, Security Consulting, Security for places of worship, Dignitary Protection, Celebrity Protection, Event Security, Private Investigations, TSCM, Armored Car, Surveillance, Counter surveillance, Secure Transportation, VIP Protection Services, intelligence and risk advisory, disaster and crisis response. and more.