Back to Posts

Learning from safety professionals: workplace violence prevention

Tamara Parris

When we think of workplace violence, what falls into this category? We asked our Community Expert Mark Mann, and our members who attended our member open discussion,  this question during our live discussion.

From our conversation we began to explore what workplace violence might encompass from our group's perspective.

Here are a few ideas that were shared during our session about examples of workplace violence:

  • Everything from bullying to terrorism
  • Past patterns of violence or predictable violence
  • Threats to person or property
  • Intentional damage to operations
  • Words and pre-attack indicators
  • Failure to share known warning signs (due to innocent ignorance or social stigma promoting silence).


We started our discussion by looking at "environmental" and "behavioral" cues to help us better identify how to increase safety and security, while decreasing our social biases. We agreed there will always be the human factor and bias, however as EHSQ Professionals our goal is to decrease these as much we can.

We began to talk about Environmental cues, and how they are like pieces to a puzzle. Often you will need to work with others to put the various pieces together to see the larger, understandable picture.

We discussed not needing all the puzzle pieces to make a prediction. However, we do need enough of the puzzle to identify what we need to 'tune in' to and be on alert for. Then we can have a plan of action to roll out.

In this latest EHSQ Community discussion, we asked our members if there is a difference between “behavioral” cues and “environmental” cues of violence during our pre-event "Members Voices" survey. Of the 27 members who answered the survey,  26 members believe there is a difference between the two different types of cues.

We discussed how we shouldn't take only one piece of the puzzle and then make a decision. We need to keep in mind that individually they carry little weight and we are working with inconclusive knowledge. It is when we communicate and collect the various pieces that we can then have a better understanding and see the larger picture.

We need to prevent violence by creating a common language of how we discuss violence prevention. We then will need to communicate with our employees and teach our workers this language. People need to know how to keep their eyes open for deviations from the norm, and help to collect the various pieces of the puzzle. They will then be able to help bring these forward to build out the fuller picture with pieces we may not see from our vantage point.

One member shared an experience from his workplace where they noticed a deviation from the norm. An unknown car was parked in the parking lot for an extended period of time. One of the employees noticed there was a stranger sitting in the car who appeared to have just committed suicide. This increased the team's awareness about the importance of being trained so they could recognize the cues of workplace violence. It also prompted our member to understand why it is so important for everyone to have training, and now his whole team helps to observe and report back strange behaviour.

Interestingly, we learned members were split about if we can trust our employees to recognize a pattern of environmental warning signs. We can see in our chart below from our pre-event survey that 11 members voted "No" and 16 "Yes".

Predictive Cues:

We need to be looking at the facts from the cues, the incremental changes in the environment that help to identify pieces of the pattern and see the larger picture.

Mark shared with our group several facts about how to predict violence:

  • Conflict & rage follow a cycle
  • Rage-solutions follow the rules of the offender
  • Historically, we have been protected from reality (limited facts)
  • Patterns are unconventional
  • Patterns are predictable
  • Deviation from the "norm" is a warning
  • Conflict & violence can be diffused!
  • Environmental cues are missed in most cases of catastrophic injury or death


Mark discussed how offenders observe and watch so they can identify patterns to memorize. They then practice and obsess over the details of the violent event. He explains that it is their need to keep a pattern that is their vulnerability because it is easy to interrupt their pattern. We can watch for a deviation from the norm in their behaviour or their response from being interrupted from their practiced pattern.

We need to remember that violence is predicted and practiced. All violence includes secrecy and hiding the truth by creating stories. It is when we pull back the curtain that we can start to breach their secrecy and we will see the inconsistencies in what the offender is doing or saying. They will share their justification for violence. It is about identifying the offender's desire and blocking their opportunity to do harm.

Mark shared that prediction cues or clues rarely stand alone, but gain momentum as we discuss, compare notes, and add context or more information. Look for:

  • Non-verbal behavioural cues - watch someone and see deviation from norm
  • Environmental - unusual and missing cues that deviate from the norm (for example the missing shot gun in the rack)
  • Unusual reactions to situations
  • Unusually calm, isolates themselves, makes unusual friends, increase in one's publications, overly involved in a campaign, reduction or elimination of courteous behaviour


Awareness leads to communication, which leads to a more complete picture. This is the key to identifying and preventing an incident of workplace violence.

Environmental Ques and Social Stigma

We asked our members if they believe "we can reduce social bias from a pre-attack assessment?"  Of our 27 members who answer the survey, 22 thought it is possible to reduce social bias and 5 did not think it would be possible.

When asked if our members believed that the federal government's "Run, Hide, Fight-back.’ is enough, we learned that 21 of our group did not believe this was enough, where as 6 members thought it was.

Mark shared with the group some environmental cues and social stigmas we should be on alert for as EHSQ Professionals.

Environmental Ques to Predict Violence

  • It’s a Science: Cues are like pieces of a puzzle / rarely stand alone
  • Collective observations / reasonable conclusions
  • Two or more pieces of a pre-attack puzzle prompt communication
  • Deviate from the cultural norm (unusual banter, obsessive topic, new found interest in violent literature, screen saver, etc.)

Social Stigmas to Watch for as an EHSQ Professional

  • Environmental cues never involve protected icons / speech (threats are not protected speech)
  • Watch for those who go Lo-Lo ( lock on / lock out)
  • Myths, to include a poor definition of respecting privacy


We narrowed down our discussion to talking about our experiences of de-escalating aggressive and violent situations in our workplaces. Our group then developed a list of ideas to share in our post-discussion information.


  • Watch for the deviation from our norm in communication and behaviours
  • Respectfully and professionally interrupt a pattern
  • Listen differently and openly
  • Delay, delay, delay
  • Think, observe and listen so we know our next move (exit, attack, distract),
  • Debrief all risky interactions
  • Provide our staff and management with full training scenario every 24 months


Barriers: Mental Fitness versus Preoccupation

It is important to keep in mind the obvious - do not assess people on race and other bias cues or indicators. When we looked at the chart (see image below) we believe it qualifies where people can land on the spectrum of mental fitness.

What we want is people to be in the middle at the orange because these are people who are open and fearless for learning. Whereas the outsider edges are two different extremes that we need to be cautious and alert of.

On one side, we have the black area were an individual is blocked by a pain condition and may not see details clearly. In comparison at the other end is where the person is closed to taking in new thoughts and ideas due to their own bias.

Mark shared with us his concept of mental fitness and being able to observe if someone is preoccupied. Below in his chart, it illustrates how being open and fearless is a healthy range for most people to be in. However, if we notice people are showing signs of being suspicious, or engaged and edgy, this is when we need to tune in and observe for the predictive cues mentioned earlier.

Our member Mark asked our presenter about training sessions, Mark Mann shared the idea of having short scenarios where employees can observe for and find cues in their environment that are a deviation to the "norm". He suggested creating a training challenge for employees to find the various cues in the workplace, allowing them to collect the various pieces of the puzzle and share them with the group.

Obinna asked how do we defuse employee aggression? Mark suggested you identify the cues of violence and what you want to teach. Use various resources such as written articles, videos etc. Introduce what escalation looks like first and then move to de-escalation techniques. Tamara shared one of her work experiences of verbal aggression which turned into physical violence. We discussed noticing the increasing aggravation over a period. Then take the time to neutralize the work environment so you do not become the target. Next we spoke about de-escalating the person's agitation so you can persuade them to remove themselves from the workplace thus avoiding harm to others.

Watch Live member discussion: Click here!

June 09, 2017 @ 09:44 AM EDT Environment, Health & Safety, Quality, Risk Management, Training Management

Login or Sign Up to join the conversation!


Tamara Parris's picture
Tamara Parris

Member Q&A

Q: Member Mark Jones asked our presenter about training sessions.

A: Mark Mann shared the idea of having short scenarios where employees can observe for and find cues in their environment that are a deviation to the "norm". He suggests creating a training challenge for employees to find the various cues in the workplace, allowing them to collect the various pieces of the puzzle and share them back.


Q: Member Obinna Oguh asked, “How do we defuse employee aggression?”

A: Mark suggested to identify the cues of violence and what you want to teach. Use various resources written articles, videos etc in your training. Then introduce what escalation looks like to start and then move into de-escalation techniques. Tamara shared one of her work experiences of verbal aggression, which turned into physical violence. It is key to observe so we notice the deviations from the norm, such as the incremental increases of aggregation over an extended period of time. We also need to be mindful of how we are going to neutralize the violence or threat of violence in the work environment, so you and others do not become the targets. Next the group discussed de-escalating the person’s agitation, in order to reach the safety and security goal of persuading them to leave the workplace area, so they can do no harm to others.

June 09, 2017 @ 09:47 AM EDT