What You Should Know About Workplace Violence

September 18, 2009 at 7:55 am Leave a comment

Raymond Clark was official charged with the murder of Yale Graduate Student and co-worker, Annie Le, yesterday. And authorities are calling this murder a case of “workplace violence.” Right now, there are no other details on Clark’s motive or the actions that led to Le’s murder, but the declaration of workplace violence raises concerns for millions of Americans who may not have thought about issues of workplace violence before.

Workplace Violence Statistics

For many of us, work is a safe place where we can earn a living without the threat of violence or bodily harm. However, last year, homicide was one of the top four causes of workplace fatalities, according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. In addition, assaults and violent acts accounted for 16% of workplace related deaths in 2008.

Workplace violence can stem from a number of sources. Obviously, those in security and law enforcement professions are most in danger of being the victim of workplace violence, but retail sales workers were the most numerous victims, with close to 330,000 attacked each year, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

Factors of Workplace Violence

Larry Porte, a former Secret Service agent and the former Manager of the Threat Response and Asset Protection Division of Kerby Bailey and Associates, says there are three factors that converge in any violent situation in the workplace:

1. The individual who takes violent action;
2. The stimulus or triggering conditions that lead the person to see violence as a ‘way out’; and
3. A setting that facilitates or permits the violence, a setting in which there is a lack of intervention.

Preventing Workplace Violence

The key to preventing workplace violence, then, is to avoid triggering conditions that would lead a person to commit violence. As well, prevention depends on fostering a workplace environment that is supportive and provides avenues for employees to receive counseling or take advantage of dispute arbitration that can act as intervention systems before emotional or interpersonal problems get out of hand.

In addition, workplace safety lies in the ability of coworkers and supervisors to recognize potential problems before they get out of hand. For example, when you see employee behavior that concerns you, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does this behavior scare me?
2. How do other people whose opinions I respect feel about this?

Also, watch for these commonly identified behaviors that may signal the potential for violence:
• Has outbursts of rage and anger and may intimidate others.
• Cooperates poorly with others.
• Blames others for own problems.
• Displays changes in work patterns (ex:tardiness, absenteeism sudden performance changes).
• Demonstrates extreme or bizarre behavior, or deep depression.
• Is often involved with alcohol or drugs.
• Has had a recent loss.
• Is disgruntled more than usual about work and is fixated on perceived injustices.
• Exhibits low self-esteem.
• Engages in sabotage behavior.
• Has a history of violent behavior.
• Shows an extreme interest in or obsession with weapons (e.g., paramilitary training, weapons collections, compulsive reading of gun magazines).
• Discusses weapons excessively at work, carries a concealed weapon, or flashes a weapon to test reactions.
• Makes either direct or veiled verbal threats of harm (e.g., predicts that bad things are going to happen to a co-worker or supervisor).
• Intimidates or instills fear in co-workers or supervisors (This includes verbal as well as physical intimidation). Examples include harassing phone calls and stalking.
• Has an obsessive involvement with the job, often with no apparent outside interests. This trait is usually coupled with failed or strained outside relationships. The workplace becomes the person’s sole source of identity.
• Is a loner who has little involvement with co-workers, with the possible exception of a romantic interest in another employee. This interest is frequently so intense that the targeted employee will feel threatened and may want to report the unwanted attention as sexual harassment.
• Is fascinated with recent incidents of workplace violence and approves of the use of violence under similar circumstances.
• Shows an escalating propensity to push the limits of normal conduct, disregarding the safety of co-workers.
• Is paranoid, panics easily, and often perceives that the whole world is against him or her.
• Handles criticism poorly and has problems with people in authority; holds grudges, especially against a supervisor, and often verbalizes a hope for something to happen to the person against whom the employee has a grudge.
• Expresses extreme desperation over recent family, financial, or personal problems.

(Questions/behaviors courtesy of The University of Texas, Human Resources Dept.)

When you see these behaviors, or recognize a co-worker’s cry for help, report your concerns to management or law enforcement (if necessary). You may be the key to preventing potential violence.

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