Assessing and Addressing Workplace Violence Lunch & Learn Recap

SVAM recently hosted a Lunch & Learn titled, “Assessing and Addressing Workplace Violence”, led by Rex Carter, retired Virginia State Police trooper. Carter has 23 years combined Law Enforcement experience. He has specialized training in self-defense/martial arts/advanced tactics as well as trauma counseling/crisis management. He is also a UFI Security Operations Specialist and has 20 years service in Pastoral Ministry.

Mr. Carter started the training by defining workplace violence. According to workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. also states that nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence.

A case study from Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois was used as an example of workplace violence. According to authorities Gary Martin brought his firearm to a meeting where he expected to be fired. Five people were killed and six officers were injured in the subsequent shooting. It took about ninety minutes to find the suspect.

It is important to remember that it can be very difficult to know when a person is going to be violent. While not all people will show the following signs, these types of behaviors and physical signs can serve as warning signs that a situation could turn violent. Also, watch for escalating behaviors and examine behavior within context. Take note if:

  • There is a change in their behavior patterns.
  • The frequency and intensity of the behaviors are disruptive to the work environment.
  • The person is exhibiting many of these behaviors, rather than just a few.
  • 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.
  • Pacing, restless, or repetitive movements.
  • Signs of extreme fatigue (e.g., dark circles under the eyes).
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Clenched jaws or fists.
  • 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).

Also watch for a 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 behavior.

Threatening behavior:

  • States intention to hurt someone (can be verbal or written).
  • Holds grudges.
  • Excessive behavior (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.


It is a good idea to prepare a comprehensive crisis management plan, which includes a workplace prevention program, for each facility. In developing the plan, consider:

  • Preparing and distributing a contact list of all local emergency agencies
  • Performing a hazard assessment
  • Identifying evacuation routes
  • Placing crisis kits
  • Crisis management action procedure with an incident command system at corporate and local levels
  • Regulatory response procedure
  • Media coordination procedure
  • Incident recovery plan
  • Select and train management officials in conflict resolution and nonviolent techniques for handling hostage, hijacking, crisis incidents and counseling situations. Train employees for active shooter situations.
  • As part of the company’s overall management safety and health training, instruct all managers and supervisors in how to identify and deal with early warning signs and potential safety problems associated with workplace violence. Develop systems for reporting signs of potential violent behavior.
  • Identify and publicize Employee Assistance Programs, employee support services, and healthcare resources available to employees and their families.

Physical dynamics such as:

  • Security Guard Service (armed or unarmed)
  • Camera Video Systems
  • Access Control Points – Point of Entry (Lobby areas)
  • Identification Card Usage
  • Vehicle Parking Permit
  • Office Layout (Door/Desk Ratio)
  • Specific location for terminations / interviews
  • Number of Persons available for terminations / interviews / inquiry
  • Lockdown Capability for doors / gates
  • Perimeter Access Points – Parking Lot; Vendor & Delivery
  • Determine Ingress and Egress within the facility (Are there fatal funnels?)



Important Notes:

The information above serves as a recap of the presentation provided by Rex Carter, but was not written by Rex Carter. All information and quotes were sourced from the presentation provided.

SVAM Members can view the full video presentation here.