Prevent, Prepare, Respond


By William F. Badzmierowski, M.ED., CSW Director of Instructor Services – Prepare Training® program


The tragic shooting in Connecticut once again brings workplace violence to the forefront of organizations worldwide. This incident reminds all of us of the critical importance of prevention, preparation, and planning to respond to any kind of emergency, including violence. 


This is a comprehensive and ongoing process involving:

  • Assessment
  • Communication
  • Training
  • Follow-up

CPI supports the belief that workplace violence occurs along a continuum, and that this continuum includes behaviors ranging from discourtesy and disrespect to intimidation, harassment, retaliation, assault, and physical aggression. Any definition of violence needs to consider this continuum of behaviors that could cause physical or emotional injury, damage assets, impede the typical course of work, or make internal or external customers fear for their physical or emotional safety.


Organizations need to establish one or more committees responsible for workplace violence prevention and response as well as associated policies, practices, training programs, emergency drills, and ongoing follow-up and evaluation. The committee should consist of representatives from management, human resources, employee assistance, frontline employees, legal counsel, and any other organization-specific roles that should be included. The committee should represent stakeholders at every level of the organization. These may include union representatives, media relations specialists, risk management personnel, loss prevention, and security.


Safety committees should assess the existence and extent of relevant risk factors in the workplace and all of its operating sites and related work contexts. This includes a comprehensive risk assessment of each work area and work context to evaluate vulnerability to any type of violence. They should then oversee planning efforts on agreed preventive actions to address identified areas of vulnerability.  


Take into consideration the perspective of internal and external customers at all levels to evaluate possible exposure to assaults, violence, and threats of violence. Include a review of any available records involving past incidents and a site-specific security analysis for each work site and work context in which work is engaged.


Management should communicate expectations around respectful, service-oriented, physically and emotionally safe workplace practices. All employees at all levels should understand their roles when any emergency happens, including violence. Specific policies and procedures should define roles and address employee rights and responsibilities.


Training should be relevant to the range of behaviors occurring along CPI's Workplace Violence Continuum that, due to their nature and severity, significantly affect any of the organization's assets; generate a concern for physical or emotional safety or both; or result in significant emotional or psychological trauma, physical injury, or death. 


Specific training topics for all employees should include but not be limited to:

  • Information, skills, and practice in safe, respectful, and service-oriented behaviors applicable to everyday workplace situations.
  • Behavior escalation levels and early warning signs.
  • Verbal and nonverbal de-escalation strategies.
  • The role of personal space and body language during crisis moments.
  • The use of tone, volume, and cadence of speech during crisis moments.
  • Effective listening skills.
  • Specific human factors that influence our behavior during crisis moments.
  • Specific staff debriefing strategies.

Follow-up begins with evaluating human welfare to decide if there are immediate medical or psychological needs. Relevant professional services and immediate support should be appropriate to the situation. These may include law enforcement, first responders, emergency medical services, crisis debriefing team, employee assistance program, and local community resources.


Follow-up also involves documentation. Even verbal and nonverbal threats should be factually documented according to your organization's policies and procedures. Documenting incidents involving assault, aggression, and threats of violence will help your organization monitor ongoing efforts, establish patterns, and determine if your violence prevention and response program is as effective as possible. Incident documentation should be objective, factual, truthful, and thorough.


All of these elements involve a comprehensive and ongoing process of assessment, planning, communication, training, and follow-up supported by policies and procedures.


Every organization needs to be committed to respectful, service-oriented, and safe workplace practices at all times and under all circumstances for internal and external customers.