Spot the warning signs of workplace violence

Workplace injuries caused by violence are on the rise in Saskatchewan. In 2018, there were 16 per cent more of these injuries than in 2017.

It’s safe to say that some of these injuries could have been prevented if employers and workers had paid attention to, and acted on, the warning signs of aggressive behaviour.

So how can you spot the potential for violence at work?

First, it’s important to know that workplace violence encompasses any situation in which an employee is abused, assaulted, threatened or harassed by a co-worker, supervisor, client, patient or a member of the general public. It includes physical attacks, such as hitting, biting and pushing, as well as verbal and psychological abuse, such as demeaning remarks and intimidation.

Recognize high stress levels

It’s hard to know when an individual may turn violent, but certain behaviours can indicate when they’re highly stressed and may become aggressive. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), these warning signs include:

  • Crying, sulking or temper tantrums
  • Excessive absenteeism or lateness
  • Disrespect for authority
  • Refusal to acknowledge job performance problems
  • Swearing or emotional language
  • Inability to focus
  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Complaints of unfair personal treatment

Watch for physical clues

Body language and non-verbal cues can also signal when a person may become violent. The CCOHS advises to use caution when you see someone displaying one or more of the following physical red flags:

  • Sweating
  • Pacing, restless or repetitive movements
  • Signs of extreme fatigue (for example, dark circles under the eyes)
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Clenched jaws or fists
  • Glaring or avoiding eye contact
  • Violating your personal space (they get too close)

What workplace violence is not

It’s important to make sure that the serious topic of workplace violence and harassment is not confused with ordinary work disagreements.  According to the Government of Saskatchewan, workplace harassment doesn’t include daily management or supervisory decisions over:

  • Work assignments
  • Job assessments and evaluations
  • Workplace inspections
  • Implementation of appropriate dress codes
  • Disciplinary actions

Take action!

If someone at work shows one or more warning sign for violence — and particularly if you see an escalation in these red flags — share your concerns with your supervisor, human resources department or a counsellor with your employee assistance program. And if your employer has a written violence prevention policy, find out what it says about how complaints are investigated and resolved. (Certain services in Saskatchewan, such as health care facilities, education, crisis counselling and law enforcement, are required to have a violence policy statement and prevention plan.)

You may also want to check out the following short courses on workplace violence:

Violence in the Workplace: Awareness

Violence in the Workplace: Recognize the Risk and Take Action

Violence in the Workplace: Establish a Prevention Program

Developed by CCOHS, these online courses have no prerequisites and take between 15 and 90 minutes, on average, to complete.