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What is workplace violence?

By Tamara Parris | Last updated: July 27, 2017
Presented by Intelex Technologies Inc.

While workplace violence has a variety of definitions, OSHA defines it as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” This definition, of course, encompasses a wide spectrum of behaviors.

Types of Workplace Violence

Common examples of workplace violence include:

  • Threatening behavior, such as shaking fists, destroying property, or throwing objects
  • Verbal or written threats that express an intent to inflict harm
  • Harassment; that is, any behavior that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms, or verbally abuses a person, including words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, or other inappropriate activities
  • Verbal abuse, including swearing, insults, and condescending language
  • Physical attacks, such as hitting, shoving, pushing, or kicking

Certain occupations are more at risk for workplace violence than others. These include workers who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel, and employees who work alone or in small groups.


Stress is often a trigger for violent behavior, so those who work in high-stress environments may be at elevated risk for workplace violence as well (help your employees manage stress with 8 Strategies to Promote Workplace Mental Health).

Employer Responsibility

I’m sure you’re wondering what employers’ responsibilities are with respect to violence in the workplace. Though OSHA doesn’t have any specific regulations regarding this topic, they do require that employers provide workplaces free of any known safety hazards. We can likely agree that workplace violence is a potential safety hazard, and employers must therefore take steps to mitigate any identified risks.

Risk assessments should consider:

Educating Employees

Employers who identify risks should develop a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program, which must be clearly communicated to every worker. Employee training should include:

  • Recognizing the potential for violence
  • Procedures, policies, and work environment arrangements put in place to mitigate workers’ risk from violence
  • Appropriate responses to incidents of violence
  • Procedures for reporting, investigating, and documenting incidents of violence

Work Together

I can’t stress enough the importance of employers and employees working together to prevent violence and maintain a safe and healthy work environment. Workplace violence can be as simple as a verbal insult or offensive gesture, or as complex as a shooting or terrorist attack. Having strong policies, open lines of communication, and a culture of education and prevention can make all the difference.

Click here for the EHSQ Community live discussion with Mark Mann on workplace violence prevention and the challenges EHS professionals face when it comes to identifying the risk of violence in their workplaces.

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Written by Tamara Parris

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Tamara Parris is the VP of Community and Business Development at Safeopedia, and owner of EHS Professionals Group on LinkedIn. Her passion is working with other EHS Professionals to collaborate in thought leadership, networking and connecting our industry peers to resources that will increase profitability and safety practices within their workplaces. Tamara has been in the Health and Safety field for over 20 years, her industry experiences include the Construction sector, CCTV and Security, and Commercial Retail industries.

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