By: Dr. Ronald G Dotson Ed. D

Occupational Safety and Health Program Coordinator
Eastern Kentucky University

Workplace Violence Prevention

The recent violent action at Vaughn Foods in Moore, Oklahoma, serves as a grim reminder of the importance for any organization to prepare for and prevent violent acts. Safety professionals play a key role in the effort to prevent, and if necessary respond, to acts of violence. Safety professionals must understand their role in dealing with troubled employees, emergency response planning, accurate investigations and security strategies. These areas of responsibility may prove to be a difficult challenge for safety professionals lacking this specific training or experience.

Troubled employees are defined as those associates whose job performance is diminished due to outside personal influence such as an addiction, mental illness, abuse or other stresses. The problem is costly to business organizations due to lost production efficiency from absenteeism, workplace incidents and increased use of health benefits. Billions are spent to cover the losses.

 Implementing a recognition initiative for troubled employees is a good first step. Training frontline supervisors to recognize the signs that an employee may be troubled and then referring to the employee assistance program that fits the needs of the employee relies first on knowing the signs and symptoms. Consider that employees battling addictions:

  • Are late to work 3 times as often as non-abusing workers
  • Leave work early 2 times as often
  • Have 2.5 times the rate of non-abusing workers for missing 8 days or more from work annually
  • Use 3 times the level of sick benefits
  • File 4 times more grievances
  • Are seven times more likely to have wages garnished, and
  • Are involved in workplace incidents 3.6 times more often than non-troubled employees (Bird, Jr., Germain, & Clark, 2003).

These signals should serve as a trigger for presenting employee assistance programs in a way that does not embarrass or offend.

Emergency response planning means that reasonable threats from nature, work risks, and human threats must be identified and counters planned and exercised. But the management system must be flexible enough to gather the right information and communicate unforeseen threats for an integrated and progressive response. Prevention is the key for workplace violence. Establishing a system for communicating threat levels and indicating additional responses is the foundation. When an employee is terminated, for example, any access privilege must be blocked, frontline supervisors should be aware, and security levels and checks should increase.

Security is a cycle of deterrence, detection, impeding, responding and capturing, and rehabilitating (Philpot, 2010). Deterrence is accomplished by having strategies in place that cause the potential perpetrator to perceive a barrier to their action. Detection must be as early as possible and in many cases, dictates response based on how early a breech is detected. Impeding or slowing a breech, relies on deploying barriers, physical and non-physical, based upon the three categories of barriers; strategical, tactical, and protective. Response and capture can mean physical detention, but also includes capturing evidence for prosecution. Prosecution is vital to achieve in order to deter future problems. Lastly the organization must assess its response and strategies for effectiveness and adapt them for better performance or deploy successful elements in other areas.

Security is matching strategies and tools to the correct step in the cycle and understanding the application. Cameras for example have been mistakenly applied leading to a myth of their usefulness. Cameras are an effective security tool when utilized correctly. Cameras deployed on a perimeter and purposely visible are being used in a deterrence capacity. But at this point, the barrier provided by the cameral is not physical. They will not and are not meant to solely stop all breeches. Cameras used to detect a breech are not effective without being manned or supported with software that alerts to captured actions and then allow monitors to pinpoint activity. Many times one human monitor is tasked with observing too many areas and too many cameras. Cameras may be most effective at the capture stage. Consider convenient store use of cameras. They are typically deployed in a manner that captures evidence only. Imagine if areas around the store could be monitored for presence on an area not typically inhabited by legitimate customers and an alert signaled the clerk to enact additional barriers. Evidence caught on camera can be valuable in prosecutions and then increases the deterrence factor based upon reputation. They also are a valuable tool in assessing the effectiveness of security measures. They can show in chronological order the actions causing a measure’s defeat.

Accurate investigations are another area of concern for safety professionals. Safety professionals truly serve as the frontline investigator and responder for organizations. When criminal acts are not reported accurately or uncovered in the investigation, the aggression may become more intense resulting in a more severe outcome. Recreations of actual occurrences are featured in the EKU curriculum. Students get to experience investigational situations where inaccuracy results in an increased potential for violence.

Workplace violence prevention relies on managing troubled employees, effective emergency response programs, and proper integration of security strategies. The occupational safety and health program at Eastern Kentucky University covers the areas that can help your organization prepare for workplace violence and implement prevention strategies for violent acts and other criminal activity. You will be introduced to basic security, emergency response planning, and managing troubled employees by faculty that have real world experience in these areas. If you are interested in learning more, checkout the occupational safety program at EKU!

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Learn to identify and analyze potential workplace hazards, infractions and risks through a bachelor of science in occupational safety online. At Eastern Kentucky University, you will gain a graduate-level education by industry-experienced educators and fire and safety professionals who are committed to teaching and preparing you for continued success.


Bird, Jr. Frank, E., Germain, George, L., & Clark, M. Doublas. (2003). Practical Loss Control Leadership 3rd Ed. Det Norske Veritas USA. Duluth, GA.

Philpott, Don. (2010). School Security: A physical security handbook for school security managers. Government Training Inc. Longboat Key, FL.