EHSQ Professional’s Voice: Workplace Violence Prevention

This month Community Expert, Mark Mann, lead our member’s discussion on Workplace Violence Prevention. He discussed workplace violence prevention and the challenges an EHS professional faces when identifying risks of violence within their workplace. Here is a recap of what Mark, and our EHSQ Community members discussed during the open discussion.

We invite you to view the Recording of the Live Member Open Discussion which inspired this month’s Learning’s from Safety Professionals post; “link to recording here”.

What does “workplace violence” include for you?

To begin the discussion, Mark asked our members to share their opinions on what they believe workplace violence can look like.

Workplace violence can include:

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

Environmental and Behavioral Cues

Our members looked at how “environmental” and “behavioral” cues can help us better identify how to increase safety and security, while decreasing our social biases. They agreed there will always be a human factor and bias, however as EHSQ Professionals our goal is to decrease these as much we can.

The goal of an EHSQ professional is to decrease the biases created by environmental and behavioral cues.

Environmental Cues

From here, the discussion moved directly to environmental cues, and how they are like pieces to a puzzle. To see the larger, comprehensive picture, input and pieces from various people will be necessary. The group agreed that a complete puzzle is not always necessary for moving forward or going “live”. However, enough of the puzzle does need to be present to identify what is needed to “tune into” and be on alert. A plan of action can then be rolled out.

When asked if a difference between “behavioral” and “environmental” cues of violence exists, 26 out of the 27 members surveyed believe there are differences between the two types.

Preventing violence starts with the creations of a common language around how to discuss it. Communicating this language with employees, and teaching workers to use this language is essential. Observing deviations from the norm can help to add more pieces to the overall puzzle and therefore increase the visibility of any larger problems being seen.

A member shared his workplace experience of witnessing a deviation from the norm. An unknown car was parked in the company lot for an extended period. An employee noticed strangers in the car who had suffered life-threatening trauma. This incident contributed to the entire company’s understanding of the importance of being properly trained to react to instances of workplace violence. This member, continues to make workplace violence training a priority for himself and his employees.

In a pre-event survey of the 27 members registered for the webinar, the following results were found when asked: “Can we trust our employees to recognize a pattern of environmental warning signs?”:

Predictive Cues

Incremental changes in the environment that help to identify pieces of the pattern and see the larger picture are critical.

Mark shared several facts about predictable violence, including:

  • 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, and
  • 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. Offenders then practice and obsess over the details of the violent event. It is an offender’s need to maintain a pattern that is their greatest vulnerability, because it is easy to interrupt their practiced pattern. Therefore, we need to be extremely observant of any “deviation of the norm” in their behavior, or response, from being interpreted from their practiced pattern.

Prediction cues or clues rarely stand alone, but gain momentum as we discuss, compare notes, and add context or more information.

  • Non-verbal behavioral cues- watch someone and see deviation from norm
  • Environmental – unusual and missing cue that again is the deviation from the norm; for example, the missing shot gun in the rack.
  • Unusual reactions to situations, and
  • Unusually calm, isolates themselves, makes unusual friends, increase in one’s publications, overly involved in a campaign, reduction or elimination of courteous.

Violence is predicted and practiced.

All violence includes secrecy and hiding the truth by creating stories to hide behind. It is when we start to pull back the curtain, we can start to breach the secrecy and see the inconsistencies of what the offender is doing or saying. They will share their justification for violence. It is about identifying the person’s desire and blocking their opportunity to do harm.

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 Cues and Social Stigma

Members were asked if they believe “we can reduce social bias from a pre-attack assessment”? 22 of the 27 members in attendance thought reducing social bias is possible.

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

  • Environmental Cues to Predict Violence
  • It’s a science: cues are like pieces of a puzzle / rarely stand alone.
  • Collective observations / reasonable conclusions.
  • 2 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.

When asked if they believed that the Federal government’s “Run, Hide, Fight-back” campaign is enough, 21 members answered that they don’t believe this is enough.

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 concept we discussed).
  • Myths, to include a poor definition of respecting privacy.


The discussion wound down with members talking about experiences of de-escalating aggressive and violent situations in our workplaces. The group then developed a list of ideas to share in the post-discussion post.

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

Barriers: Mental Fitness versus Preoccupation

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

It is important to keep the obvious out, to 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 outside edges are two different extremes that we need to be cautious and alert.

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

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.

Thank you to our Community Expert! Mark Mann is the Principal for Sound Predictions, he facilitates pragmatic advice and customized organizational improvement.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *