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Can violence in the workplace be prevented?

One of the scariest things about workplace violence is the seemingly random nature of the acts that can result in multiple fatalities. But are those acts of violence really all that random?

In some cases, there are definitely signs prior to the violent homicidal acts. Below are some preventive measures employers and coworkers can take to reduce the likelihood of these incidents, as well as warning signs that there may be trouble brewing.

Companies should prepare their employees for a hostile situation by having policies in place as well as doing practice drills. Any threats should be immediately reported to management and law enforcement, as should the presence of weapons in the workplace.

There are three stages of warning signs of potential violence from coworkers. During the first stage, an employee may become argumentative and curse others or get confrontational with supervisors. They might display open hostility toward other employees or customers. Perhaps they mention that they haven't been sleeping or act irritated.

Stage Two involves more overt acts, such as sabotaging or stealing company property. They may act victimized and express a desire to hurt a supervisor or fellow worker. They may suddenly seem accident prone and become disinterested in their job performance.

Stage Three is really critical, as the employee is beginning to unravel. Intense anger is common, and there may be suicidal threats made or physical altercations. But disaster can still be averted with decisive actions by those in charge.

Supervisors can head off problems before they reach this stage by maintaining a high level of respect for and among staff. Any verbal intimidation or psychological abuse between coworkers should be dealt with immediately. Note patterns of behavioral changes in the staff, and if a problem is suspected, supervisors should address it calmly with them.

Nobody leaves for work in the morning expecting to be gunned down at his or her desk. If you are injured by acts of workplace violence, you have the right to make a claim for worker's compensation benefits.

Source: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, "Workplace Violence," accessed Jan. 22, 2016

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