Early Signs of Workplace Violence

Worker safety professionals often don't deal with workplace violence until it is right about to occur or has already occurred. Learn early signs of workplace violence to look out for so you can take a proactive approach to violence prevention.

Early Signs of Workplace Violence

Each year, violence in the workplace affects more than two million Americans (OSHA). Such violence often has fatal consequences. It is possible to avert workplace violence by taking heed of the signs and signals that potential perpetrators invariably send.

Workplace Violence – What is it?

Violence at the workplace entails more than just physical assault. It manifests in various forms such as threats, pranks, rumor mongering, sabotage, intimidation and property damage. It is worth remembering that such violence is not confined to the workplace. It can happen on a remote worksite, at a business function or trade show. Apart from employees, clients and contract labor can exhibit such violence as well. The triggers of all types of workplace violence are often similar and it is important to be aware of them to ensure worker safety.

Signs of workplace violence

  1. An increase in absenteeism and leaving the workplace early, especially without permission, can be a sign that something is amiss. This is of particular concern if it seems out of character for employee, for instance, if he or she has previously had a good attendance record.
  2. A drop in quality of work leading to an increase in monitoring by superiors indicates a drop in proficiency that could be a result of more stress at the workplace than an individual can take. This can be a signal that an employee needs extra help and counseling.
  3. A departure from regular behavior is often the most visible signal that all is not right with a person at the workplace. If an accommodating individual who readily adjusts to demands of the job begins to to complain or refuses to to adhere to demands, it can indicate that he or she is reaching the end of his/her tether. Similarly, if an otherwise communicative colleague suddenly begins to keep to him or herself, this can be a sign that something is not quite right. These situations should be examined and acted upon immediately to ensure and maintain worker safety.
  4. An inability to concentrate on the work at hand and being distracted by trifles is the sign of a mind that is ill at ease. Such a person may get irritated at small things and may look for outlets to vent frustration. If you notice such behavior in your colleague, then notify your manager. Timely action can ensure workplace safety.
  5. A newfound interest in weapons and/or an obsessive interest in perceived injustices in the immediate and outside environment strongly hint that an employee may be headed fast towards a violent incident. He or she needs to be handled with understanding and care.
  6. Substance abuse can lead to an escapist attitude, avoidance of accountability and a breakdown of self-control. It is vital that your organization has a system in place to recognize and help people who are succumbing to drug or alcohol abuse.
  7. Subtle or overt threats to carry out an act of property damage or hurt someone are strong indicators that workplace safety could be compromised and immediate preventive steps should be taken. Such conduct usually follows the above-mentioned signs, and signals that the subject is reaching their breaking point.

Not everyone who exhibits these warning signs should be deemed as liable to violence in the workplace. However, such behavior exhibited consistently should be accounted for and noted as a red flag, and appropriate steps should be taken to pre-empt any untoward incident. Such actions should be seen as an unspoken appeal for help. Organizations should have a system in place to deal with such situations. Have a written policy in place about complaint resolution, unacceptable behavior, and the safety of employees that report worrying behavior of colleagues. For more information about preventing workplace violence, see our blog post, “How to Prevent Workplace Violence.”

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