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Workplace violence includes a range of behaviours, from verbal abuse to physical assaults, directed at individuals within a work environment. In this article, we will explore the different types of workplace violence and provide detailed advice on identifying their warning signs. Our goal is to give you practical steps to prevent such incidents and highlight the significance of creating a safe and secure work environment. Detecting signs early is essential in reducing the chances of violence, so organizations must make it a priority to focus on this aspect of workplace safety.

1. Types of Workplace Violence

1.1 Criminal Intent

Criminal intent violence refers to acts of violence committed by individuals who have no prior connection to the workplace. These individuals are often motivated by external factors such as robbery or terrorism. These incidents can pose significant risks to the safety and security of employees and the work environment as a whole.

Here are some key points to consider regarding criminal intent violence in the workplace:

  • External Threats: Individuals with criminal intent may target workplaces for various reasons, including the potential for financial gain through robbery or to instil fear and chaos through acts of terrorism.
  • Unpredictable Nature: Unlike internal conflicts within an organization, criminal intent violence is often unpredictable and can occur without any prior warning or indication.
  • Impact on Workplace Environment: Such acts of violence can have a lasting impact on the overall sense of security and well-being among employees, creating a climate of fear and uncertainty.

An example of criminal intent violence in the workplace could involve a scenario where an armed individual enters a retail establishment to commit a robbery. In such cases, employees and customers alike may be exposed to threats of physical harm, leading to potential emotional trauma and long-term psychological distress.

Organizations need to develop proactive measures to address potential criminal intent violence, including:

  1. Implementing robust security protocols
  2. Providing comprehensive employee training on emergency response procedures
  3. Collaborating with local law enforcement authorities to enhance vigilance and preparedness against external threats

By recognizing the distinct characteristics of criminal intent violence and implementing targeted prevention strategies, workplaces can significantly reduce the likelihood of such incidents occurring and create a safer environment for all individuals involved.

Customer/client/patient-related violence refers to acts of aggression directed towards employees by individuals who have a connection to the workplace as customers, clients, or patients. This type of violence often occurs when these individuals are dissatisfied, agitated, or frustrated. Understanding the underlying causes and typical scenarios where customer/client/patient-related violence may occur is essential to effectively prevent and address such incidents.

Here are the key points to consider:


Customer/client/patient-related violence involves verbal or physical aggression towards employees by individuals who have a professional relationship with the organization.

Underlying Causes

This type of violence can stem from various factors such as long wait times, perceived mistreatment, dissatisfaction with services, or mental health issues of the customer/client/patient.

Typical Scenarios

Examples of customer/client/patient-related violence include:

  • Irate customers shouting at service representatives
  • Patients becoming physically aggressive towards healthcare professionals due to pain or frustration
  • Clients expressing their dissatisfaction through threats or acts of violence

To further illustrate this type of workplace violence, let’s consider a real-life example:

Case Study: Customer Service Representative

Sarah works as a customer service representative for a telecommunications company. One day, she receives a call from an angry customer who has been experiencing issues with their internet service for several days. The customer becomes increasingly frustrated and begins yelling at Sarah over the phone. Despite Sarah’s attempts to resolve the issue and calm the customer down, the situation escalates, and the customer starts making threats towards her.

This case highlights how the dissatisfaction of a customer can quickly escalate into verbal abuse and threats towards an employee. Organizations must have measures in place to de-escalate such situations and ensure the safety of their employees.

By understanding the nature of customer/client/patient-related violence and recognizing the warning signs, organizations can implement strategies to prevent and manage these incidents effectively. This may include providing employees with conflict resolution training, establishing clear policies for handling difficult customers, and creating a supportive work environment where employees feel safe reporting incidents of violence.

1.3 Worker-on-Worker Aggression

Worker-on-worker aggression refers to acts of violence or aggression inflicted by one colleague upon another within the same organization. This type of workplace violence often arises due to conflicts, power struggles, or unresolved disputes within the work environment.

Types of Workplace Violence:

  1. Criminal Intent Violence: This occurs when individuals with no prior connection to the workplace engage in violent acts motivated by external factors such as robbery or terrorism. For example, a robbery at a retail store resulted in physical harm to employees.
  2. Customer/Client/Patient-Related Violence: This involves violence directed towards employees by dissatisfied or agitated customers, clients, or patients. An example would be a patient becoming physically aggressive towards healthcare workers due to dissatisfaction with their care.
  3. Worker-on-Worker Aggression: As mentioned earlier, this encompasses violence between colleagues within the same organization, often stemming from internal conflicts or power struggles.
  4. Personal Relationship-Related Violence: This type of violence arises from personal relationships between individuals in the workplace, such as domestic disputes spilling over into the professional setting.

Real-life Example: In an office setting, a disagreement over credit for a successful project leads to escalating tensions between two coworkers. Eventually, this conflict results in a physical altercation, constituting worker-on-worker aggression.

By understanding and recognizing these various types of workplace violence, organizations can proactively implement measures to prevent and address such incidents before they escalate.

Personal relationship-related violence refers to acts of violence that arise from personal relationships between individuals in the workplace. These acts typically involve individuals who have a pre-existing relationship, such as colleagues who are involved in a romantic relationship or employees who have ongoing personal conflicts. The violence may spill over from their personal lives into the professional setting, posing a threat to the safety and well-being of all employees.

Here are some key points to consider when discussing personal relationship-related violence:


Personal relationship-related violence is characterized by acts of aggression, harassment, or intimidation that occur between individuals who have a personal connection within the workplace.

Underlying Causes

This type of violence often stems from unresolved personal conflicts, domestic disputes, jealousy, power struggles, or other interpersonal issues.

Typical Scenarios

Personal relationship-related violence can manifest in various ways within the workplace. For example:

  • A couple going through a difficult breakup may engage in verbal or physical altercations at work.
  • Colleagues who have ongoing personal conflicts may resort to acts of aggression or intimidation to assert dominance.
  • An employee may experience harassment or stalking by a coworker with whom they had a previous romantic relationship.

To illustrate the impact and consequences of personal relationship-related violence, consider the following examples:

Case Study 1

In a small marketing firm, two employees were involved in an intense romantic relationship that ended acrimoniously. After the breakup, the former partners engaged in aggressive behaviour towards each other at work, including public arguments and threats. This created a hostile work environment for other employees and resulted in decreased productivity and morale.

Case Study 2

In a healthcare facility, an employee began receiving unwanted attention and inappropriate advances from a coworker. Despite her clear rejections, the coworker persisted and escalated his behaviour to stalking and harassment. This created immense distress for the employee and compromised her ability to perform her job effectively.

By understanding the dynamics of personal relationship-related violence, organizations can implement policies and procedures to prevent and address such incidents. This may include providing training on conflict resolution, establishing clear guidelines for appropriate workplace behaviour, and promoting a culture of respect and open communication.

2. Key Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence can have serious consequences, including physical harm, psychological trauma, and damage to the work environment. Recognizing the warning signs of potential violence is crucial for prevention and early intervention. Here are the key warning signs to be aware of:

2.1 Physical Signs

Observable physical signs can often indicate an imminent risk of violence in the workplace. It’s important not to dismiss seemingly minor incidents, as they could be early manifestations of a larger problem. Some physical signs to watch out for include:

  • Aggressive behaviour: This includes acts of aggression such as throwing objects, slamming doors, or punching walls.
  • Injury marks on employees: Visible signs of physical harm, such as bruises, cuts, or scratches on employees’ bodies.
  • Property damage: Vandalism or destruction of company property can be indicative of underlying anger or hostility.

For example, if an employee repeatedly punches walls or throws objects during moments of frustration, it may signal a potential for violence towards others. Similarly, if you notice frequent instances of property damage within the workplace, it is essential to address these behaviors promptly.

2.2 Verbal Signs

Verbal cues can also provide insights into a person’s intent to harm others. It’s essential to pay attention to spoken or written language that conveys aggression or hostility. Some verbal signs that may indicate a potential for workplace violence include:

  • Threats: Explicit threats made towards colleagues, supervisors, or the organization itself.
  • Derogatory remarks: Consistently using offensive language or derogatory terms towards others.
  • Hostile exchanges: Engaging in heated arguments or confrontations with coworkers.

Creating a culture where derogatory remarks or hostile exchanges are not tolerated is essential in preventing workplace violence. By fostering an environment built on mutual respect and open communication, organizations can minimize the risk of verbal aggression escalating into physical violence.

2.3 Behavioral Signs

Changes in behaviour patterns can serve as warning signals for underlying tension or dissatisfaction that may lead to violence. Here are some behavioral signs to be aware of:

  • Withdrawal or isolation: An employee who suddenly withdraws from social interactions, avoids colleagues, or isolates themselves may be experiencing significant distress.
  • Increased irritability or anger: Uncharacteristic displays of anger, irritability, or impatience towards coworkers or supervisors can be indicative of underlying issues.
  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness: Frequent and unexplained absences or consistently arriving late to work without a valid reason could indicate personal problems affecting an individual’s behaviour.

If you notice a colleague displaying noticeable distress, isolation, or concerning changes in behavior, it is important to reach out and offer support. Sometimes a simple conversation can make a significant difference in someone’s well-being and prevent potential acts of violence.

2.4 Psychological Signs

Certain psychological indicators may increase the risk of an individual committing violent acts. Understanding these signs can help identify employees who may require mental health support before their issues escalate into potential threats. Some psychological signs to be aware of include:

  • Intense feelings of resentment or injustice: A persistent belief that one has been treated unfairly or wronged by others.
  • Obsession with violent themes: Preoccupation with violent media, literature, or discussions about violent acts.
  • Expressions of hopelessness or despair: Verbalizing feelings of hopelessness, having no prospects, or expressing thoughts of suicide.

Promoting the availability of mental health resources within the workplace encourages employees to seek help for their emotional well-being. By addressing psychological concerns early on, organizations can contribute to a safer and more supportive work environment.

By recognizing these key warning signs of workplace violence, employers and employees alike can take proactive steps to prevent incidents before they occur. Early intervention through sign recognition plays a crucial role in mitigating the risks of violence and creating a safe and secure work environment.

2.2 Verbal Signs

When it comes to workplace violence, physical signs are not the only indicators of potential danger. Verbal signs can also provide crucial insights into a person’s potential intent to harm others. It is important to pay attention to spoken or written cues that may convey aggression, threats, or intimidating language. By recognizing these verbal signs, we can take proactive steps to prevent violence in the workplace.

Creating a Positive Work Environment

In many workplaces, derogatory remarks or hostile exchanges are unfortunately tolerated, creating an environment where violence can thrive. To combat this, fostering a culture of mutual respect and zero tolerance for verbal aggression is essential. Here are some ways to create a positive work environment:

  1. Encourage open communication channels
  2. Provide training on conflict resolution and effective communication
  3. Promote teamwork and collaboration
  4. Recognize and reward positive behaviour

By implementing these strategies, we can help reduce the occurrence of workplace violence.

Examples of Verbal Signs

Examples of verbal signs that may indicate a potential for violence include:

  1. Threats: Any explicit or implicit statements suggesting harm to oneself or others should never be taken lightly. These threats may be direct or veiled, but they should always be taken seriously and reported to the appropriate authorities.
  2. Intimidating Language: Verbal aggression, yelling, shouting, or using offensive language towards colleagues can create a hostile work environment and escalate tensions.
  3. Persistent Harassment: Harassment can take many forms, including verbal abuse, persistent teasing or belittling, spreading rumours, or making derogatory comments about someone’s race, gender, religion, or other personal characteristics.

By addressing these verbal signs promptly and taking appropriate action, we can help prevent workplace violence and foster a safer work environment for everyone.

Remember, prevention starts with awareness and early intervention. By being vigilant and recognizing the warning signs of workplace violence – whether physical, verbal, behavioural, or psychological – we can take proactive steps to mitigate the risks and ensure the safety and well-being of all employees.

2.3 Behavioral Signs

In addition to physical signs and verbal signs, various behavioural signs may indicate a potential for violence in the workplace. These signs can be categorized into four main areas: overt behaviours, subtle red flags, psychological signs, and aggressive behaviour.

Overt Behaviors

Overt behaviours are actions that are visible and may include:

  • Threatening or intimidating language
  • Frequent arguments or conflicts with coworkers
  • Violent outbursts or tantrums
  • Unpredictable or erratic behaviour

Subtle Red Flags

Subtle red flags are behaviours that may not be as obvious but still raise concerns. These can include:

  • Increased irritability or impatience
  • Withdrawal from social interactions or isolating oneself
  • Excessive complaining or negativity
  • Changes in appearance or personal hygiene

Psychological Signs

Psychological signs refer to behaviours that reflect an individual’s mental state and emotions. These signs may include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Expressions of hopelessness or despair
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Expressions of anger or resentment towards others

Aggressive Behavior

Aggressive behaviour is any action that is intended to cause harm or injury to another person or property. This can include:

  • Physical aggression such as hitting, pushing, or throwing objects
  • Verbal aggression such as yelling, swearing, or making threats
  • Damage to company property or equipment as a form of retaliation
  • Injury marks on employees resulting from altercations

Why Changes in Behavior Patterns Are Important

Changes in behaviour patterns can serve as warning signals for underlying tension or dissatisfaction in an individual. It is essential to pay attention to these changes as they may indicate a potential for violence in the workplace. Here are some reasons why changes in behaviour patterns are important:

  1. Early Detection: Recognizing changes in behaviour early on can help identify potential issues before they escalate into more significant problems.
  2. Prevention: By addressing underlying concerns or providing support, it may be possible to prevent a situation from escalating into violence.
  3. Safety: Monitoring changes in behaviour can help ensure the safety of all employees by identifying individuals who may pose a risk.

Examples of Concerning Workplace Behaviors

Here are some examples of concerning workplace behaviours that may indicate a potential for violence:

  • An employee who used to be friendly and outgoing suddenly becomes withdrawn and isolated, refusing to engage in conversations with coworkers.
  • A coworker who was previously calm and composed starts displaying aggressive behaviours such as slamming doors or throwing objects when frustrated.
  • An individual who frequently complains about their job begins making veiled threats towards their supervisor or colleagues.

Offering Support to Those in Distress

Colleagues must reach out and offer support to someone who is displaying noticeable distress or isolation. These individuals may be experiencing challenging circumstances or mental health issues and could benefit from assistance. Here are some ways you can provide support:

  1. Listen: Take the time to listen attentively to their concerns without judgment or interruption.
  2. Express Empathy: Show understanding and empathy towards their situation, acknowledging their feelings and emotions.
  3. Offer Assistance: Provide practical help or resources that may be beneficial, such as suggesting counselling services or employee assistance programs.
  4. Encourage Communication: Let them know that they can always approach you if they need someone to talk to or if they require any assistance.

By offering support early on, it may be possible to help individuals navigate through difficult times and prevent potential acts of violence in the workplace.

2.4 Psychological Signs

Psychological signs are important in identifying the potential for workplace violence. Certain behaviours and attitudes may indicate an increased risk of committing violent acts. It’s important to recognize these psychological warning signs and provide appropriate support to mitigate the risk.

Key Indicators of Psychological Signs

  1. Fixation on Violence: Employees displaying an unusual fixation on violent themes or expressing excessive interest in past violent incidents may indicate a potential risk.
  2. Preoccupation with Past Incidents: Obsessive thoughts or discussions about past workplace altercations could signal unresolved anger or distress, posing a potential threat in similar situations.
  3. Expressions of Anger: Persistent and intense expressions of anger, especially directed towards colleagues or the organization, warrant attention as they may lead to aggressive behaviour.

It’s essential to promote the availability of mental health resources for employees. Creating a supportive environment where individuals feel comfortable addressing psychological concerns can help prevent these issues from escalating into potential threats. By offering accessible resources and encouraging open dialogue about mental health, organizations can proactively address psychological warning signs and work towards preventing workplace violence.

Preventing Workplace Violence Through Vigilance and Preparedness

Developing a Comprehensive Prevention Program is essential in creating a safe work environment and promoting a positive organizational culture. By taking proactive measures, employers can significantly reduce the risk of workplace violence. Here are some key strategies to consider:

  1. Conduct Risk Assessments: Begin by conducting thorough risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities within the workplace. This includes evaluating physical security measures, such as access control systems, surveillance cameras, and emergency response protocols. It also involves assessing the nature of the work environment and identifying high-stress areas or situations that may increase the likelihood of violence.
  2. Establish Clear Policies and Procedures: Implementing clear policies and procedures for reporting incidents of workplace violence is crucial. This ensures that all employees understand how to document and report any concerning behaviour or threats they witness or experience. Establish a confidential reporting mechanism that encourages open communication without fear of retaliation.
  3. Provide Regular Training Sessions: Regular training sessions are vital for enhancing threat awareness among staff members. These sessions should cover topics such as recognizing warning signs of potential violence, conflict resolution techniques, de-escalation strategies, and personal safety measures. Make sure the training is interactive and engaging to maximize knowledge retention.
  4. Promote a Culture of Respect: Foster a culture of respect within the organization where all employees feel valued and supported. Encourage open communication, active listening, and constructive feedback among colleagues. Implement zero-tolerance policies for harassment, bullying, or any form of aggressive behaviour.
  5. Encourage Employee Involvement: Actively involve employees in the prevention efforts by encouraging them to report any suspicious activities or concerns promptly. Establish an anonymous reporting system if necessary to ensure confidentiality and encourage participation from all staff members.
  6. Offer Supportive Resources: Provide access to mental health resources for employees to address issues before they escalate into potential threats. Offer counselling services, employee assistance programs, or resources for stress management and conflict resolution. Communicate the availability of these resources regularly to ensure employees are aware of the support available to them.

Remember, preventing workplace violence requires a multi-faceted approach that involves proactive measures, ongoing training, and a supportive organizational culture. By implementing a comprehensive prevention program, employers can create a safe and secure work environment for their employees.

Fostering a Culture of Safety and Respect

Creating a safe work environment is a crucial aspect of any effective workplace violence prevention program. It involves not only implementing physical security measures but also promoting a positive organizational culture that prioritizes safety and respect. Here are some key points to consider:

Physical Security Measures

Highlight the role of physical security measures such as CCTV surveillance, restricted access areas, and alarm systems in maintaining a safe work environment for all employees. These measures act as deterrents and provide a sense of security.

Emergency Preparedness

Emphasize the importance of having well-defined emergency response protocols in place. This includes conducting regular drills, establishing evacuation routes, and providing training on emergency procedures. When employees feel prepared for potential incidents, it can help reduce anxiety and promote a sense of safety.

Open Communication Channels

Encourage organizations to foster open lines of communication between management and employees. This can be achieved through regular team meetings, suggestion boxes, or anonymous reporting mechanisms. When employees feel heard and supported, they are more likely to report potential warning signs or concerns.

Conflict Resolution Mechanisms

Advocate for effective conflict resolution mechanisms within the organization. This can include mediation services, coaching programs, or clear procedures for addressing conflicts. By providing resources and support for constructively resolving conflicts, organizations can prevent tensions from escalating into violent incidents.

Supportive Management Practices

Highlight the importance of supportive management practices in creating a culture of safety and respect. This includes providing ongoing training on recognizing and addressing workplace violence, promoting work-life balance, fostering positive relationships among employees, and addressing any issues promptly and effectively.

Integrating these concepts throughout the organization promotes a holistic approach to workplace violence prevention. By combining physical security measures with proactive measures that focus on creating a safe work environment and fostering a positive organizational culture, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of workplace violence incidents.

Remember that preventing workplace violence requires ongoing vigilance and collaboration between employers and employees. It is essential to regularly assess and update risk assessments, policies, and procedures, provide continuous employee training, and encourage a culture of safety and respect.

Encouraging Employee Well-being and Work-Life Balance

To truly prevent workplace violence, organizations must go beyond physical security measures and create a supportive work environment that prioritizes employee well-being. By promoting a positive organizational culture and providing resources for employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance, companies can reduce the risk of violence and foster a sense of safety and respect among their workforce.

Key Points to Consider

Holistic well-being support

Organizations must address the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of their employees. This includes providing access to confidential counselling services through Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs). EAPs can offer professional assistance to employees dealing with personal or work-related issues that may contribute to stress or conflict. By offering these resources, organizations demonstrate their commitment to supporting their employees’ overall well-being.

Promoting work-life balance initiatives

Long working hours, excessive workload, and limited time off can contribute to increased stress levels, which in turn can escalate tensions in the workplace. By promoting work-life balance initiatives such as flexible schedules, and remote work options, and encouraging employees to take regular breaks, organizations can help alleviate stress and create an environment where employees feel valued and supported.

Integrating these concepts into a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program is essential. Rather than having separate subheadings, it is important to maintain a coherent flow throughout this section by seamlessly integrating the concepts of prevention programs, safe environments, and positive cultures.

By prioritizing employee well-being and providing resources for maintaining a healthy work-life balance, organizations can create an environment where employees feel supported, and valued, and less likely to experience or perpetrate workplace violence. A culture that promotes open communication, effective conflict resolution mechanisms, and supportive management practices further strengthens this foundation.

When it comes to preventing workplace violence, understanding the legal framework and regulations is crucial. Here’s what you need to know about legislation on workplace violence and state laws on workplace violence prevention:

State-Specific Regulations and Requirements

  • Legal requirements regarding workplace violence prevention may vary from one jurisdiction to another.
  • Organizations must adapt their prevention approaches accordingly to comply with state-specific regulations and requirements.
  • Some states have legislated that employers develop a program to prevent workplace violence, while others have advanced laws that amend existing statutes for assaults of first responders by adding health care providers/nurses and/or increasing the penalty associated with such behaviour.
  • In the healthcare industry, specific laws may establish or increase penalties for assault of nurses in healthcare settings.

Understanding the legal landscape surrounding workplace violence prevention is essential for organizations to ensure compliance and implement effective strategies tailored to their specific regulatory environment. By staying informed about state-specific regulations, employers can proactively address workplace violence while meeting legal obligations.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

Employers are mandated to adhere to legislation on workplace violence, including state laws on workplace violence prevention. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in severe penalties and negative repercussions for businesses. Here are the potential consequences that businesses may face in cases of non-compliance with applicable workplace violence prevention laws:

Legal Ramifications

  • Fines and Penalties: Businesses may face financial penalties for violating workplace violence prevention laws, impacting their bottom line.
  • Legal Action: Non-compliance can result in lawsuits and legal action, leading to costly litigation and damage to the organization’s reputation.

Reputational Damage

  • Public Perception: Violations of workplace violence prevention laws can tarnish a company’s reputation, leading to public scrutiny and loss of trust among stakeholders.
  • Employee Morale: Failure to address workplace violence risks can negatively impact employee morale, leading to reduced productivity and high turnover rates.

Organizations must prioritize compliance with workplace violence prevention laws to safeguard both their legal standing and reputation within the community.


Creating a safe work environment is a collective effort, and by being proactive in recognizing and addressing workplace violence, we can contribute to a safer and more secure workplace for all.

Here are some key takeaways from this guide:

  1. Vigilance is Key: Recognizing the early signs of workplace violence is crucial for maintaining a safe work environment. It’s essential to remain vigilant and attentive to any concerning behaviours or warning signs.
  2. Adaptation and Preparedness: Staying informed about evolving threats and continuously adapting prevention measures is essential in addressing new challenges. Workplace violence prevention should be an ongoing, dynamic process.
  3. Reporting Concerns: Encouraging readers to report any concerns regarding potential workplace violence situations. Timely intervention can save lives, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to speak up if they notice any red flags.
  4. Taking Action: A call to action for organizations to develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention plans. Resources and further guidance are available for support in creating and implementing these crucial initiatives.

Remember, creating a safe work environment is a collective effort, and by being proactive in recognizing and addressing workplace violence, we can contribute to a safer and more secure workplace for all.