Workplace violence has grown into perhaps the most significant risk issue facing corporate security departments today. Security professionals have a unique contribution to make in helping the organization to meet its duty of care to anticipate, prevent, respond to and recover from workplace violence incidents.

At the outset, corporate security needs to have a place at the strategic planning table. Due to the multi-faceted nature of workplace violence, a multidisciplinary steering committee should be formed where Security is joined by HR, Health and Safety, Legal, Operations/Facilities and other relevant departments to identify roles and responsibilities, and establish an integrated workplace violence prevention and response strategy.


Risk Assessment

An initial role for corporate security is to conduct focused risk assessments to identify the nature and extent of workplace violence risks across the organization’s entire operating footprint. The definition of “workplace” is expanding and any violence risk assessment needs to be scoped broadly to encompass all work related activities.

The objective of the workplace violence risk assessment is to identify the current threat levels, assess the suitability of existing risk mitigation measures, and identify new or additional risk controls needed to strengthen the existing workplace anti-violence program.

The scope of a typical risk assessment should incorporate:

  • the nature of the workplace, including any history of workplace violence/threats
  • the conditions and type of work being conducted
  • the views and experiences of front-line workers across all job roles
  • a focused assessment of workplace design, administrative practices and work routines at each individual work site/facility
  • an area crime risk assessment
  • the history of violence within similar places of employment

Many organizations have multiple worksites, some of which are geographically dispersed. Security professionals should resist the temptation to “boilerplate” their approach to multi-site risk assessments. To ensure the unique aspects of each workplace are reviewed, a separate risk assessment should be undertaken at individual work locations.

In a retail setting, for example, many store locations look substantially similar. However, each store operates within a unique socio-physical and operational context. One store may be impacted by local gang activity, another store may have poorly lit employee parking and another store may have extended hours of operation.

The risk assessment will have identified the most significant workplace violence concerns for the organization. The next step is to develop specific measures to eliminate or minimize those risks.



When it comes to workplace violence the primary objective for the organization is prevention. The vehicle to achieve this is a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program, the cornerstone of which is a well-crafted “anti-violence policy.”

A common mistake made within many organizations is promulgating an anti-violence policy without first completing a thorough risk assessment. The risk assessment provides the information and context needed to develop an effective, defensible policy that addresses the identified workplace violence risks.

For the corporate security team, the content of the anti-violence policy is critical. Care should be exercised in scoping and crafting this policy to ensure it empowers employees to report their concerns freely, while not inhibiting investigation and follow up activities to be undertaken by corporate security.

Some important elements from a preventative standpoint may include:

  • a clear identification of prohibited behaviors, along with the consequences of non-compliance
  • identification of the roles and responsibilities of all workplace parties
  • identifying how and to whom incidents or behaviors of concern are to be reported and how incidents/complaints will be investigated
  • ensuring the policy addresses violence from all possible causes/sources (including domestic violence)

Statistics show that domestic violence continues to seriously impact the workplace both directly and indirectly. Not only should domestic violence risk be included within the scope of the risk assessment, but it should also be formally addressed within workplace anti-violence policies, programs and training.

Research studies suggest that many workplace violence incidents are part of an escalating pattern of behavior. The inclusion of harassment behaviors (i.e. intimidation, bullying) within an all-encompassing anti-violence policy provides the organization with an enhanced ability to identify early warning signs and prevent the build-up to incidents of full-blown violence. Having established an appropriate and relevant policy, the next step is to ensure that a “workplace anti-violence program” is in place with adequate controls to mitigate the risk of violence. Corporate security is well-suited to guide the implementation of risk mitigation measures across the enterprise. Again, the risk assessment findings should guide the selection of specific measures to be formed into an integrated workplace anti-violence program.

The program should address the risks of violence associated with: (1) specific workplace activities (i.e. opening and closing, transfer of cash/valuables); (2) specific job functions (i.e. dealing directly with customers, handling cash); (3) specific job characteristics (i.e. working alone or in isolation, work-related travel); and (4) physical workplace characteristics (i.e. physical location, proximity to high crime areas).

“Pre-contact” risk control measures are directed at preventing violence. Some examples include:

  • removing or relocating hazardous activities within the workplace
  • educating the public and/or key stakeholder groups
  • creating a barrier between the worker and potential threat sources
  • training staff in risk avoidance techniques
  • advising staff if/when they may come into contact with an individual with a history of violent behavior in the workplace.


Aside from implementing measures to minimize the likelihood of occurrence, organizations should also take steps to ensure an appropriate response in the event of an actual or imminent act of violence. “Post-contact” control measures assist in reducing the impacts of, and ensuring appropriate responses to, workplace violence incidents.

Some examples include:

  • measures to summon immediate assistance and respond to a serious incident
  • a policy discouraging “heroics” on the part of employees in the event of a violent criminal act
  • measures to facilitate the reporting of incidents or behaviors of concern
  • a workplace violence investigation protocol
  • specialized training and awareness for both employees and supervisors/managers

The training provided to employees should not be a generic, “off-the-shelf” product.  Instead, guidance and instruction should be tailored to the risks identified in the workplace risk assessment. Employees should be trained in their roles and responsibilities, as well as the organization’s procedures and arrangements to minimize the risk of violence. The training should also encompass safe and appropriate responses to incidents as well as the reporting of prohibited conduct under the anti-violence policy.

Certain types of work have been identified within the research as “high risk” for workplace violence, including healthcare, retail, social services and others. Certain positions within the workplace (i.e. receptionists) and certain work activities (i.e. employee terminations) are also associated with a heightened risk of violence. Where the risk assessment identifies the potential for workplace violence, appropriate controls should be implemented and reviewed with the affected employees. 

   Employees who have been identified as facing an elevated risk of violence should receive training delivered by qualified instructors that incorporates:

  • The nature of threats specific to the workplace
  • Ways to recognize potentially violent situations
  • Appropriate responses to avoid and/or de-escalate volatile situations
  • The procedure for documenting and reporting violent behavior

One area that is often overlooked is the need to develop and deliver specialized guidance and training to supervisors and managers. These positions have a critical role to play in monitoring the work environment, handling complaints and taking follow up action as identified within the anti-violence policy. Supervisory and managerial staff need to know and understand their responsibilities in administering the anti-violence program and fostering a safe work environment.



After an incident, the victim(s) and other affected employees should be provided with support and/or counseling services. Where appropriate, informal and/or formal debriefing should be facilitated by the organization to allow workers to discuss their experience.  Incident follow up facilitates closure and ensures that all lessons to be taken from the incident are applied to prevent future occurrences. 

One of the most important contributions to be made by corporate security is dealing with post-incident analysis. Once all incident response requirements are met, an internal review should be conducted following any workplace violence occurrence. Specific action items should be identified and assigned to named individuals. 


Special Considerations

There are a number of other areas where corporate security can contribute to workplace violence prevention, including:

  • involvement in a Threat Assessment Team to be convened to assess the threat posed by any workplace party who is exhibiting behavior(s) of concern
  • leadership of the incident response team
  • involvement in assessing cases where employees refuse to work based on an assertion of an unsafe work environment
  • identification and implementation of “safe rooms” - secure spaces within the workplace where groups of employees can shelter in the event of a violent incident
  • development of a personalized Safety Plan for the workplace that sets out proactive measures to minimize the risk of domestic workplace violence.