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How to Spot Possible Workplace Violence

by Erin Schreiner

The accounts of workplace violence that make it onto the news represent only a small sampling of the violence that occurs in America’s workplaces. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 2 million cases of workplace violence are reported each year. Instead of pretending that your workplace is immune to violence, dedicate energy to preventing it.

Build a Team

Watching for signs of workplace violence is more than a one-person job. In a 2004 guidance document on workplace violence prevention, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that businesses create multidisciplinary teams. Include members spanning the levels of your organization, from management on down. Because each individual offers a different viewpoint, creating a team like this allows for monitoring for potential problems from multiple vantage points.

Take Threats Seriously

A frustrated worker squeezes his eyes shut, holds his head between his hands and quietly mumbles a threat of violence. It is easy to chalk this occurrence up to general on-the-job annoyance and tell yourself that he doesn’t mean what he is saying. Taking such a lax approach is a major error, however, warns executive coach and former psychologist Michael Staver in an article for "Forbes." Never downplay a threat, Staver warns. Instead, investigate the occurrence or report it to a human resources representative.

Monitor Changes in Performance

If a once-stellar worker suddenly starts lagging in his work, or a normally cordial employee has begun to throw out hateful verbal barbs at co-workers, you may have cause to be concerned. Any notable change in performance is a concern that an employee may act out in violence. Monitor this employee more closely and speak to him about what you have noticed to ascertain a reason for his behavior change. Support him appropriately to reduce the likelihood that he turns to violence.

Look for Physical Signs

Sometimes, physical signs immediately precede acts of violence, states the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. If you suspect that an employee is agitated, monitor him closely. Watch specifically for common signs, such as a red face, pacing, trembling, clenching of jaws or fists and sweating. If you notice these signs, attempt to get the employee to step away from others. If he refuses to comply, call the authorities.

About the Author

Erin Schreiner is a freelance writer and teacher who holds a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been actively freelancing since 2008. Schreiner previously worked for a London-based freelance firm. Her work appears on eHow, Trails.com and RedEnvelope. She currently teaches writing to middle school students in Ohio and works on her writing craft regularly.