Ways to Prevent Workplace Violence

(The following information appeared as a sidebar in the article, "Face Off with Workplace Violence" in the October, 1999 issue of Food Management).

Experts agree that taking preventive measures and creating violence policies, like these, is the best way to reduce the frequency of violent outbursts:
 
Be aware. Listen to what people are saying and note their behavior. Treat customers and co-workers with respect and try to resolve disagreements before they escalate.
 
Take all threats seriously. What appears to be a fleeting bout of anger might be a time bomb waiting to explode. Learn to recognize behavior that typically precedes violent outbursts and get assistance immediately.
 
Establish protocol. The time when workplace confrontations occur is unpredictable. It is important to develop a sound emergency management plan that outlines convenient escape routes, how to summon assistance and how to document the episode.
 
Take control of the situation. In a non-threatening manner, try to rationalize and encourage individuals to vent their frustrations. Listen and respond in a dignified, courteous and empathetic way. Do not to take criticism or complaints personally.
 
Monitor body language. Remain calm. Maintain body space;  speak slowly and in a low volume; refrain from finger pointing; and only touch the individual in self-defense.
 

Identifying violent characteristics

While there might not be a formula for predicting when a violent incident will occur or who will cause it, there are specific warning signs employers can train themselves and their employees to look for in co-workers and customers.
 
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, warning signs characteristic of potentially dangerous individuals include:
 
• unwarranted anger
• preoccupation with work
• frequent absenteeism
• sullen withdrawal
• irrational beliefs and ideas
• a violent history
• defensiveness
• low self-esteem
• irresponsibility
• extreme disorganization
• an obsession with vio- lent movies
• a fascination with weapons
• a lack of concern for the safety of others
• substance abuse 
• exceptional stress