Safety & Health

Safety Management

Understanding and Preventing Workplace Violence

Grainger Editorial Staff

In 2020, there were more than 20,000 days-away-from-work injuries caused by workplace assaults, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). And each year there are millions of workers who report beings victims of workplace violence, according to the National Safety Council. It's a pervasive problem, even if it only makes the news at its most extreme.

But it doesn't have to be extreme to have negative short-term and long-term outcomes. As defined by OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workplace violence includes harmful acts like verbal abuse, threats, shoving and hitting. Even when no serious physical injuries result, acts like these can lead to low morale, low productivity, high job stress, increased absenteeism and increased turnover, according to the NIOSH.

There's also the small but still real possibility of the worst outcome of all. In 2020, BLS recorded 392 workplace homicides.

The Types of Workplace Violence 

When planning prevention and mitigation efforts, consider the categories of people who commit violence in the workplace. Researchers have described four different types of workplace violence based on who's responsible and their relationship to the organization and its employees.

Type One, Criminal Intent: The person acting violently doesn't have a relationship with the business or its employees. An example of this type is someone robbing a worker at a store.

Type Two, Customer or Client: The person acting violently is a current or former customer or client of the business. A restaurant patron attacking a staff member is an example of this type.

Type Three, Worker-on-Worker: The person acting violently is a current or former employee of the business. An example of this is when one staff member bullies and intimidates another.

Type Four, Personal Relationship: The person acting violently doesn't work at the business but has a personal relationship with someone who does. Intimidation or bullying of a spouse or partner can fall into this category when it happens in the workplace.

According to research published by NIOSH, retail businesses are particularly susceptible to Type One, while Type Two occurs frequently in the health care industry. Type Three and Type Four are likely to occur in all industries.

When conducting a threat assessment, you can evaluate each threat in light of these four types.

What Can You Do?

NIOSH recommends prevention measures that can be divided into environmental design, administrative controls and behavioral strategies.

According to NIOSH, environmental design strategies that can help prevent workplace violence include:

  • Drop safes and other cash control systems
  • Physical separation between workers and customers, either with barriers or with higher, deeper counters
  • Good lighting in high-risk outdoor areas
  • Building design that considers factors like the ways people can get into and out of a building and the places that people can hide
  • Alarms, security cameras and other security devices

Administrative controls that can help prevent workplace violence include:

  • Increasing the number of staff on duty
  • Using receptionists or security guards to screen people entering the workplace
  • Conducting criminal background screenings and checking references for potential hires

Behavioral strategies that can help prevent workplace violence include:

  • Training employees in nonviolent response and conflict resolution
  • Training in workplace violence policies and reporting

4 Steps to Help Employees Feel Prepared

The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends four steps that can help employees feel more prepared and secure:

  • Establish a workplace violence prevention program
  • Create a plan for emergency response 
  • Train all employees on how to respond to incidents
  • Make sure employees know about the resources that are available

Active Shooter Training

Finally, while mass shootings in the workplace are extremely rare, the possibility can't be ignored. Your organization may want to consider active shooter training to help employees prepare for the worst.

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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