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Avoiding Workplace Violence

OSHA defines workplace violence as "any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site (or in a client’s home)."  It can range from threats, verbal abuse, sexual advances to physical assault and even homicide.

Warning signs of impending violence could include:

  • Invading one’s personal space

  • Hands in pockets

  • Clenching fists

  • Arms held tight across chest

  • Heavy breathing

  • A terrified look signifying fear and high anxiety

  • A fixed stare

  • Aggressive or threatening posture

  • Profanity

  • Thrown objects

  • Sudden changes in behavior

  • Indications of drunkenness or substance abuse

  • Pacing

  • Yelling

If violent behavior occurs or you see indicators, do the following:

  • Remain calm.

  • Talk calmly, listen to the person, and keep a safe distance.

  • Remind the person that you are there to help.

  • Know your escape route.

  • If you feel afraid of being harmed,

    • Calmly leave the room, if possible. Call for help.

    • Leave the home and call your supervisor from a safe place nearby.

    • If you are in immediate danger, outside of the office, call 911.

 Personal safety outside the office:

  • Plan ahead, and be sure to have precise driving directions.

  • Carry a noise-making device such as a whistle.

  • Carry a cell phone.

  • Keep your car in good repair; know whom to call if your car breaks down.

  • Always lock your car.

  • Don’t leave personal items visible in the car.

  • Always carry your keys in your hand when you are leaving a home.

  • Schedule visits during daylight hours.

  • Choose a parking spot that is in the open and near a light if you are there when it is dark.

  • Check the outside, the front, and back seat of your car before getting in.

  • Consider working in pairs in high-crime areas.

  • Always let your employer know where you are and when to expect you to report back.

  • When driving alone, have the car windows rolled up and doors locked.

  • Before getting out of the car, check the surrounding location and activity. If you feel uneasy, do not get out of the car.

  • Turn on outside lights before returning to your car in the dark.

  • Wear sturdy, flat shoes with good slip protection.

 During the visit:

  • Evaluate each situation for the potential of violence.

  • Trust your intuition.

  • Be alert for signals of impending violent assault, such as verbally expressed anger and frustration, threatening gestures, signs of drugs or alcohol abuse, or the presence of weapons. 

  • Avoid behaviors that may be interpreted as aggressive (for example, moving rapidly or getting too close, touching unnecessarily, or speaking loudly).

  • Maintain behavior that helps to diffuse anger:

    — Present a calm, caring attitude.

    — Do not match threats.

    — Do not give orders.

    — Acknowledge the person’s feelings.

  • If possible, keep an open pathway for exiting.

  • Report any incident of violence to your employer.

  • Notify your employer if you observe an unsecured weapon in the client’s home.

  • If you notice strong chemical odors or suspect that there’s a drug lab in the area, notify the local police and your employer.

  • If you cannot gain control of the situation, take these steps:

    — Shorten the visit. Remove yourself from the situation.

    — If you feel threatened, leave immediately.

  • If you are being verbally abused, ask the abuser to stop the conversation.

    — If the abuser does not stop, leave the premises and notify your employer.

Threats vs Limit Setting:

1.Threat: "If you don't stop, I'm going to call security!"

Limit Setting: "Please sit down. I don't want to involve security but I may have to if you continue this behavior."

2.Threat: "If you keep pounding the table like that, I won't help you."

Limit Setting: "I know you need help. Please stop pounding on the table. It is only creating a distraction and slowing our progress in getting the help you want."

3.Threat: "That type of behavior won't be tolerated!"

Limit Setting: "Please stop yelling at me. It is much easier for me to help when I am treated with respect."

Animal Safety:

Sources of injury from animals, especially pets, may include bites, tripping, and allergic reactions.

  • Unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid contact with pets.

  • You can ask that an animal be secured in a safe place prior to your visits.

How to avoid a dog bite:

  • Never approach an unfamiliar dog.

  • Never run from a dog.

  • Stay still when an unfamiliar dog comes up to you.

  • If knocked over by a dog, lie still.

  • Do not look a dog in the eye.

  • Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.

Dress for Safety:

  • Do not wear anything that can be used as a weapon or grabbed by someone.

  • Avoid earrings or necklaces that can be pulled.

  • Long hair should be secured so that it can't be grabbed.

  • Overly tight clothing can restrict movement.

  • Overly loose clothing or scarves can be caught or tripped on.

  • Glasses, keys or name tags should be on breakaway safety cords or lanyards. 


Additional resource: OSHA Workplace Violence Fact Sheet

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