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Violence In The Workplace – Causes & Prevention

Violence in the Workplace or occupational violence refers to violence, usually in the form of physical abuse or threat, that creates a risk to the health and safety of an employee or multiple employees.

According to OSHA

Workplace violence is 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. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors.


Every year, millions of American workers report having been victims of workplace violence. In 2017, assaults resulted in 18,400 injuries and 458 fatalities, according to Injury Facts.

Certain industries, including healthcare, service providers and education, are more prone to violence than others. Taxi drivers, for example, are more than 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers, according to OSHA.

Examples Of Violence In The Workplace

  • Threatening behaviour such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
  • Verbal or written threats: Any expression of an intent to inflict harm.
  • Verbal abuse: Swearing, insults or condescending language.
  • Physical attacks: Hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.

Generally speaking, any action or behaviour from rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson to murder are all examples of workplace violence and/or harassment.

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Causes Of Workplace Violence

Here are some common causes of violence in the workplace:

  • Staff shortages
  • Increased patient morbidities
  • Exposure to violent individuals
  • Absence of strong workplace violence prevention programs and protective regulations

Types Of Workplace Violence


  • Criminal intent. The perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery, shoplifting, trespassing and terrorism.
  • Customer or client. The perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business. This category includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates and any other group for which the business provides services. Victims are often patient caregivers, Police officers, flight attendants and teachers.
  • Worker-on-worker. The perpetrator is an employee or past employee who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace.
  • Personal relationship. The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence assaulted or threatened while at work.

Warning Signs

Here are some signs you need to watch out for in your fellow worker. Research has shown that exhibition of these signs is a signal that such co-worker may develop violent behaviour in future; these signs includes:

  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Unexplained absenteeism, change in behavior or decline in job performance
  • Depression, withdrawal or suicidal comments
  • Resistance to changes at work or persistent complaining about unfair treatment
  • Violation of company policies
  • Emotional responses to criticism, mood swings
  • Paranoia

How To Prevent Workplace Violence

The starting point is to develop a workplace violence prevention policy, and this policy should be developed by management and employee representatives.

The policy should:

  • Apply to management, employee’s, clients, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company.
  • Define what you mean by workplace violence in precise, concrete language.
  • Provide clear examples of unacceptable behaviour and working conditions.
  • State in clear terms your organization’s view toward workplace violence and its commitment to the prevention of workplace violence.
  • Precisely state the consequences of making threats or committing violent acts.
  • Outline the process by which preventive measures will be developed.
  • Encourage reporting of all incidents of violence.
  • Outline the confidential process by which employees can report incidents and to whom.
  • Assure no reprisals will be made against reporting employees.
  • Outline the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints.
  • Describe how information about potential risks of violence will be communicated to employees.
  • Make a commitment to provide support services to victims of violence.
  • Offer a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to allow employees to seek help.
  • Make a commitment to fulfill the violence prevention training needs of different levels of personnel within the organization.
  • Make a commitment to monitor and regularly review the policy.
  • State applicable regulatory requirements.

How To Protect Yourself From Violent Behaviour In The Workplace

There are three (3) things you can do:

  • Run: If there is an escape route, run.
  • Hide: If there is no escape route, look for a place to hide
  • Fight: Where there is no escape route or a good place to hide, your last option is to fight back.
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