Warning signs of violence in the workplace


KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Circumstances of workplace violence are different at every company. The CDC says most people who die in on-the-job homicide are killed by a stranger. They say co-worker violence amounts to about five percent of work-related homicides.

Work is almost like a second home.

“These are people that you spend time with everyday and you get to know their normal,” said Officer Brian Farmer.Related:2 supervisors shot, killed by longtime employee of Athens factory

Officer Farmer has a long career in law enforcement and trains East Tennessee groups on what to do in situations of workplace violence or active-shooters.

“Something like this can happen anywhere that you work, that you worship, that you shop. I mean nowhere is truly safe from this type of thing,” he said.

Officer Farmer says being prepared could mean the difference between life or death. He says while violence like what happened at the Thomas and Betts’ Athens plant is rare, there are three strategies to survive.

“If you hear gunshots, you run. You run away from the sound of the gunshots,” said Officer Farmer.

If running is not possible, Officer Farmer says to barricade yourself in a room, locking the doors, turning off the lights and silencing your cell phone. If all of that doesn’t work, Officer Farmer says don’t go down without a fight.

“Pick up a fire extinguisher, pick up an office printer, pick up a coat rack, anything you can get in your hands that might do damage to someone.”

There’s not a lot of time to react, so Officer Farmer says to listen to your instincts.

“Get out, save yourself, save anyone you can along the way.”

While more and more information on the causes of violence and how to handle it is becoming known, there is often no reasonable rationale for this type of conduct and, despite everything we know or do, violent situations happen. The department of labor says no employer is immune from workplace violence and no employer can totally prevent it.

However, it is much easier to stop small incidents than trying to deal with the aftermath of a major crisis. It is extremely important to understand that the following behaviours do not mean a person will become violent, but they may indicate that the person is experiencing high levels of stress. Each situation is unique and professional judgement or outside assistance may be necessary to determine if intervention is necessary.

Always take particular note if:

  • There is a change in their behaviour patterns.
  • The frequency and intensity of the behaviours are disruptive to the work environment.
  • The person is exhibiting many of these behaviours, rather than just a few.

Warning signs include:

  • Crying, sulking or temper tantrums.
  • Excessive absenteeism or lateness.
  • Pushing the limits of acceptable conduct or disregarding the health and safety of others.
  • Disrespect for authority.
  • Increased mistakes or errors, or unsatisfactory work quality.
  • Refusal to acknowledge job performance problems.
  • Faulty decision making.
  • Testing the limits to see what they can get away with.
  • Swearing or emotional language.
  • Handles criticism poorly.
  • Making inappropriate statements.
  • Forgetfulness, confusion and/or distraction.
  • Inability to focus.
  • Blaming others for mistakes.
  • Complaints of unfair personal treatment.
  • Talking about the same problems repeatedly without resolving them.
  • Insistence that he or she is always right.
  • Misinterpretation of communications from supervisors or co-workers.
  • Social isolation.
  • Personal hygiene is poor or ignored.
  • Sudden and/or unpredictable change in energy level.
  • Complaints of unusual and/or non-specific illnesses.
  • Holds grudges, especially against his or her supervisor. Verbalizes hope that something negative will happen to the person against whom he or she has the grudge.

Sometimes it is not what a person says, but what their body is “doing”. Use caution if you see someone who shows one or more of the following “non-verbal” signs or body language:

  • Flushed or pale face
  • Sweating.
  • Pacing, restless, or repetitive movements
  • Signs of extreme fatigue (e.g., dark circles under the eyes)
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Clenched jaws or fists
  • Exaggerated or violent gestures
  • Change in voice
  • Loud talking or chanting
  • Shallow, rapid breathing
  • Scowling, sneering or use of abusive language
  • Glaring or avoiding eye contact
  • Violating your personal space (they get too close)

In some cases, there has been a clear pattern of warning signs before a violent incident. When you can, take note of:

  • History of violence

    • Fascinated with incidents of workplace violence
    • Shows an extreme interest in, or obsession with, weapons
    • Demonstrated violence towards inanimate objects
    • Evidence of earlier violent behaviour
  • Threatening behavior

    • States intention to hurt someone (can be verbal or written)
    • Holds grudges.
    • Excessive behaviour (e.g. phone calls, gift giving)
    • Escalating threats that appears well-planned
    • Preoccupation with violence
  • Intimidating behavior

    • Argumentative or uncooperative
    • Displays unwarranted anger
    • Impulsive or easily frustrated
    • Challenges peers and authority figures
  • Increase in personal stress

    • An unreciprocated romantic obsession
    • Serious family or financial problems
    • Recent job loss or personal loss
  • Negative personality characteristics

    • Suspicious of others
    • Believes he or she is entitled to something
    • Cannot take criticism
    • Feels victimized
    • Shows a lack of concern for the safety or well-being of others
    • Blames others for his problems or mistakes
    • Low self-esteem
  • Marked changes in mood or behavior

    • Extreme or bizarre behavior
    • Irrational beliefs and ideas
    • Appears depressed or expresses hopelessness or heightened anxiety
    • Marked decline in work performance
    • Demonstrates a drastic change in belief systems
  • Socially isolated

    • History of negative interpersonal relationships
    • Few family or friends
    • Sees the company as a “family”
    • Has an obsessive involvement with his or her job
  • Abuses drugs or alcohol

What can you do if you’re concerned?

Take action.

If you are an employee, you can report your concerns to your supervisor, or human resources department. You can also get advice from your employee assistance program (EAP) if you have one. Find out if you have a violence prevention program in your workplace and what you should do — if not, encourage your employer to develop one.

If you are an employer, you should know that many organizations are developing workplace violence prevention policies and programs.

A program is the best way to prevent workplace violence because it takes a very structured, well thought out approach to identifying hazards and reducing the risks for your organization. Remember, employers have a legal obligation to provide employees with a safe workplace. This obligation includes providing a workplace free from workplace violence.

Information from the U.S. Department of Labor and Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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