Violence in the Workplace

Potential Workplace Violence

Most people think that workplace violence is a physical assault. Workplace violence can also include actions such as threatening behaviour, written or verbal threats, harassment, verbal abuse and various physical attacks. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

  • Threatening behaviour can include such things as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
  • A Written or verbal threat can include any expression of intent to inflict harm. A direct threat is a clear and explicit communication that distinctly indicates that the potential offender intends to do harm.
  • Harassment can include any behaviour that is designed to coerce or instill fear in the victim.
  • Verbal abuse can include swearing, insults or condescending language directed at the victim.
  • A Physical attack can include hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking the victim.

Identifying Threats and Tips on Dealing with Difficult Situations

Predicting when an individual might be “at risk” to commit a violent act is difficult. Most individuals who commit violent workplace acts tend to fit into one or more profiles. These could include:

  • Exhibits emotional instability or violent behaviour
  • Exhibits signs of extreme stress
  • Undergoes profound personality changes
  • Feels victimized by supervisors or the entire organization
  • Makes threats or alludes to acts of workplace violence
  • Exhibits signs of extreme paranoia or depression
  • Displays behaviour inappropriate to the situation at hand
  • Exhibits signs of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Is involved in a troubled, work related romantic situation

Dealing with Hostile Persons

Pay attention to the nonverbal communications that you express toward the violent individual and those that he or she exhibits to you.

Some strategies for dealing with potentially hostile people are:

  • Give the potentially violent person enough physical space (two to four feet is adequate and if possible, have furniture or a large solid object between you and the person).
  • Avoid staring, which may be perceived as a challenge.
  • Stay conscious of how you are delivering your words (keep your volume low, and speak slowly).
  • Listen carefully and don’t be judgmental (use silence as a calming tool and clarify what you are hearing).
  • Observe the individual’s body language.
  • Remain as calm as possible

Use caution if the person exhibits one or more of the following:

  • Red Face
  • Sweating
  • Pacing
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Crossed arms and legs
  • Clenched jaws or fists
  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Glaring or avoiding eye contact