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Can Workplace Violence Be Prevented?

According to the U.S. Secret Service, in nearly 75% instances of serious violence at schools, other students were aware that the attacks had been planned before they actually occurred. In half of the cases, more than one person had expressed concern to others. There is no reason to believe that workplace violence statistics in the retail industry are any different.

The recent tragic events in San Bernardino, California, once again bring the subject of workplace violence to the forefront. Simply defined, workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. OSHA statistics show that approximately 2 million American workers are victims of some form of violence in the workplace each year. There is not room in this article to discuss all of the workplace incidents that have made the news just in the past week. Some are more noteworthy than others, but we are constantly reminded that it can happen any place, any time and to any of us.

Some workplace incidents are completely without warning. In most retail armed robberies, there are few, if any, advanced warning signs. In many other types of incidents, however, there are warning signs that, if interpreted correctly and acted upon, could prevent a serious incident from occurring.

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So what can you, as a loss prevention professional, do to help identify and hopefully prevent potential threats in the workplace? The answer is twofold – be knowledgeable and aware of potential warning signs that individuals may exhibit and, as important, report your observations to management. Below are some of the most common characteristics or warning signs of potentially violent employees:

• Direct or veiled threats of harm to others or to property
• History of violence at work, with family or strangers
• Extreme mood swings
• Chronic or serious depression
• High interest in or ownership of weapons, or displaying a weapon in the workplace
• Workplace bullying or intimidation
• Inability to take criticism regarding job performance
• Holds a grudge
• Few or no friends or family
• Extreme interest in workplace violence news items
• Current history of chemical or alcohol dependence
• Withdrawn or seen as a loner
• Romantic obsession with a coworker who does not share the interest
• Blames problems on others, such as the government or employer
• Fanatical involvement with any special interest group
• Inappropriate emotional outbursts
• Thin skinned – overreacts to criticism
• Obsessive involvement or identification with the job
• History of inappropriate comments or offensive language
• Despair over family, personal or financial problems
• Morally righteous – including religious fanaticism
• Attempts to intimidate or instill fear
• Anti-management history
• History of workplace grievances.
• Negative attitude, in general
• Resistant to change
• Poor communication skills

To be fair, it must be noted that any one or even a few of these warning signs do not indicate impending violence. Everybody has a different personality and everyone has their own problems. However, if multiple signs are present and consistent, a warning flag should go up. Hopefully, an effective workplace violence policy and protocols are in place that allows management to effectively deal with potential problematic behaviors.

Loss prevention is often ideally situated to observe employee behavior. Knowing what to look for and, by nature of the job, having a responsibility to report concerns, can go a long way to preventing potential violence in the workplace.

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