Will prevention programs contain it?

Executive Summary

At least 2 million people are victims of violence in the workplace each year in the United States, according to the federal government. All businesses are potentially at risk, and the total cost can run into the billions of dollars. Workplace violence can be committed by fellow employees, clients or customers, estranged partners – or random people. While workplace killings attract the most attention, they are relatively unusual; the most common form of workplace violence is assault. Violence at work also encompasses threats, bullying, stalking and harassment. Occupations especially at risk include law enforcement and health care workers. Businesses need to consider workplace violence and threat management programs to mitigate potential attacks or liability. They also must be aware of legal issues, such as how to balance an individual’s gun rights with concerns about providing a safe workplace.

Key takeaways include:

  • While workplace homicides rose almost 20 percent in 2017, this type of violence has declined significantly over the past two decades.

  • Experts say prevention, threat management and training programs are proven ways to reduce workplace violence.

  • Recent school shootings have prompted calls to arm teachers, but liability and insurance issues pose obstacles.

  • Click here to listen to an interview with author Lorna Collier or click here for the transcript.

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Resources for Further Study



Bonczyk, Kathleen M., and Joseph D. Bonczyk, “The Killer in the Next Cubicle: The tragedy of workplace violence in America and 161 recent employee-on-employee homicides,” Amazon Digital Services, 2018. An e-book provides updated data on workplace violence and recounts a study by the authors on worker homicides.

Burke, Ronald J., and Cary L. Cooper, eds., “Violence and Abuse In and Around Organisations (Psychological and Behavioural Aspects of Risk),” Routledge, 2018. A collection of essays examines workplace violence around the world.

Holbrook, Christina M., et al., “Workplace Violence: Issues in Threat Management,” CRC Press, 2018. Experts explore strategies on workplace threat management and provide data on workplace violence.


Fernández Campbell, Alexia, “Why Violence Against Nurses Has Spiked in the Last Decade,” The Atlantic, Dec. 1, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ydaqoxh9. A journalist explores the connection between violence against health care workers, which jumped 110 percent in the past decade, and funding cuts that have led to reduced staffing levels and less preventive mental-health services.

Peek-Asa, Corinne, et al., “The threat management assessment and response model: A conceptual plan for threat management,” Security Journal, July 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ydyn3edw. Six experts on threat assessment and workplace violence prevention describe and explain a new model of threat management assessment and response.

Waterfield, Allison, “Preventing Workplace Violence: Think Twice About Claiming ‘Direct Threat,’” Labor and Employment Blog, Bloomberg BNA, April 25, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/yc4tx4a8. Employers receive guidance on how to deal with employees who may have a mental illness and pose a threat to others.

Winn, Zach, “Joint Commission: 7 Ways to Prevent Workplace Violence in Healthcare Without Adding Security,” Campus Safety News, April 24, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/yclathes. A commission describes how hospitals can address workplace violence without having to hire more security staff.

Reports and Studies

“Making Prevention a Reality: Identifying, Assessing, and Managing the Threat of Targeted Attacks,” Behavioral Analysis Unit, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/ycgrh26j. Members of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit explain how to prevent workplace attacks.

“Workplace Violence,” PLC Labor & Employment, American Bar Association, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/ya5lv3l8. A report provides guidance on the legal aspects of workplace violence prevention.

“Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention,” ASIS International/Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), Sept. 2, 2011, http://tinyurl.com/y7tfcxzz. Professional associations of security professionals and human resource managers co-produced a set of standards and benchmarks for workplace violence prevention.

“Workplace Violence Prevention and Related Goals,” U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration, December 2015, http://tinyurl.com/o64snwg. A review of regulatory compliance, accreditation and patient safety guidelines includes detailed examples, tips and resources.

Arnetz, Judith E., et al., “Preventing Patient-to-Worker Violence in Hospitals,” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2017, http://tinyurl.com/y8ckor7y. Providing data to health care workers about violence in their units helped them cut patient-to-worker violence, according to a study by researchers in Michigan and Sweden.

The Next Step

Health Care Safety

Chuck, Elizabeth, “Veterans hospital killings spotlight problem of violence against health care workers,” NBC News, March 17, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y9pnxqw4. A recent hostage shooting in a California health care facility has led to the introduction of a federal bill that would require all hospitals to create workplace violence prevention programs.

Dickson, Virgil, “Joint Commission urges hospitals to address workplace violence,” Modern Healthcare, April 20, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/y8l5rwkz. Hospitals need to take steps to address workplace violence, including supporting victims and developing prevention techniques, says the nation’s largest hospital accrediting body.

Thayer, Katie, “After hostage incidents, proposed law would protect nurses from violence,” Chicago Tribune, May 3, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybdeem2n. An Illinois state representative has proposed legislation that would require violence prevention training at health care facilities and protections for employees who report violent incidents.

Workplace Shootings

Cain, Áine, “People are often too embarrassed to react to emergencies at work – here’s how to stay safe should the worst happen,” Business Insider, April 9, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/ybgk5qlx. Workplace emergency plans should be flexible and empower employees to trust their instincts, says a security expert.

Hsu, Tiffany, and Jack Nicas, “YouTube Shooting Puts a Focus on Workplace Security,” The New York Times, April 5, 2018, http://tinyurl.com/y8zgdsks. The recent uptick of workplace shootings has led companies – especially tech companies with sprawling, open campuses – to tighten security measures.

Umoh, Ruth, “What to do if there’s an active shooter at your workplace,” CNBC, April 4, 2018, https://tinyurl.com/yd4ohxho. In the event of an active shooter in the workplace, employees should either evacuate, hide or as a last resort, fight, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security guidelines.


Association of Threat Assessment Professionals
700 R St., Suite 200, Sacramento, CA 95811
Organization that provides seminars, training and networking for threat assessment professionals.

Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence
2416 E. Washington St., Suite E, Bloomington, IL 61704
Nonprofit organization, founded by private businesses, that focuses on stopping partner violence in the workplace.

International Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design Association
300 Meredith Road, N.E., #711, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2E 7A8
Organization that uses environmental design changes to help cut violence and crime in communities, workplaces and other places worldwide.

National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health
1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA 30329-4027
1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636)
A division of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that researches a variety of workplace topics, including workplace violence.

National Threat Assessment Center
245 Murray Lane, S.W., Washington, DC 20223
An agency within the Secret Service that gathers research and provides training in threat assessment.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration
200 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, DC 20210
Federal safety agency whose mission includes workplace violence.

Society for Human Resource Management
1800 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314
1-800-283-SHRM (7476)
An organization of human resource professionals that features frequent workplace violence articles and resources.

Workplace Bullying Institute
PO Box 578, Clarkston, WA 99403
Run by psychologists Ruth Namie and Gary Namie, the institute is dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680417.n1