Preventing Violence in the Workplace

Julie Shenkman
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A number of factors can lead to workplace violence, including downsizing, professional stress and a lack of job security. The responsibility for preventing violence usually falls to the human resources department. With the right preemptive actions, it is possible to create a safe environment that protects all employees.


The first step in preventing workplace violence is to create a clear-cut policy that defines unacceptable acts and explains the consequences of breaking the rules. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration encourages companies to take a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to verbal threats, nonverbal threats and physical altercations. The written policy must be distributed to each person in the company. OSHA also suggests that the content be integrated into the existing health and safety program.


To feel safe at the office, employees need a way to report workplace violence. An effective reporting system also allows the human resources department to spot warning signs in advance so they can intervene early to prevent more serious acts. The specific system can vary by company, but it should include a way to report threats, worrisome behavior or outright violence in a fast and safe manner. HR professionals might also request that employees suggest ways to improve office safety; in many cases, employees with a realistic picture of ground-level operations can provide valuable insights. Most importantly, ensure that workers do not face backlash or danger as a result of a report.


Training is a crucial step in preventing workplace violence. Employees must understand how to report a problem and what to do in case of a serious incident. Should workers try to subdue a violent colleague, for example, or attempt to leave the room? Who should they call for help? Training should also address exterior threats. Companies may need to work with a safety specialist to determine strategies for escaping violent customers, staying safe during a shooting incident or locating the safest place in the building. Although these possibilities are uncomfortable to address, advance preparation can save lives.


The most effective programs to prevent workplace violence involve people throughout the company. The HR department should not assume all responsibility; instead, it can work with teams to implement each strategy. The company might hold a yearly training session for managers, for example, or create a safety team within each department. HR professionals should be a resource for information, training, counseling and advice. Distributing the responsibility can help the principles become an intrinsic part of the company culture rather than a vague policy.

In many cases, incidents of workplace violence are preventable. By creating effective policies and finding ways to involve people at all levels, HR professionals can create a safer and more productive environment.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at



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