4 Easy Steps to Prevent Workplace Violence


Posted by the lovely: Marilyn Nicole Deese

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Workplace violence gets a lot of press attention. Arguably, it’s even become fashionable to tell employers, managers, and regular old Joes to watch out for the guy sitting in the next cubicle because he might “go postal”. Ingredients for horror stories are particularly ripe when the economy sucks and people are getting laid off.

Couple quick facts:

— The most dangerous people in your workplace are those who have criminal intent or are customers/clients of the organization.

— The most dangerous workplaces are late night retail (aka: the gas station), mobile services (aka: taxi drivers), and healthcare (aka: emergency rooms and mental health settings; more about them later).

There is no research that I could find that investigates taxi drivers or other mobile services specifically. However, there are several scientifically solid studies regarding the retail industry. Most of the violent events that happen here are due to criminal intent. Clearly, the guy comes into the store and makes it clear to the employee(s) that he will be leaving with the money. You may be thinking, “Oh, so as an employer, I’m off the hook, huh? There’s no way that I could prevent that sort of thing- it’s just part of the job!” Well, you’d be wrong.

As an employer/owner of a retail organization, you have the responsibility to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employees, under the OSH Act. While OSHA’s national office does not have specific standards regarding workplace violence (yet), several of the state plans do require many workplace controls to prevent violence. These standards are based on research that has concluded that the use of several of the following measures together will significantly reduce the risk of crime (and therefore, violence).

Preventing Workplace Violence: 4 Easy Steps

There are four easy ways to protect your employees (and your money) by preventing crime. You can do this through changing the environment. Taking simple measures like the following will reduce the perceived benefits for potential criminals to rob a store (i.e., cash) and increase the perceived risks for robbing the store (i.e., getting caught and going to jail). You do this by reducing the amount of cash on hand, increasing visibility into and out of the store, controlling accessibility, and recording all incidents of workplace violence.


Cash. Crooks want it, and so do I. I imagine that you do, too, gentle reader. The way that we hold on to it and keep crooks from getting it is to put it in a secure place. It makes sense that if the cash is in a highly secure bank, a bolted safe, or a time-release cash machine, criminals will not be able to get to it. (Unless, of course, they are George Clooney and Brad Pitt, planning the biggest heist in Las Vegas history.) As a retail store owner, you can protect your cash and your employees by limiting their access to cash. In several research studies that interviewed convicted robbers, the convicts reported that reducing the amount of available cash to $30 – $50 substantially dropped the likelihood that they would try to rob it. Here are the simple steps:

1. Routinely deposit excess cash (anything over $50) in a safe. Do not allow the store clerks to access this safe.

2. Advertise to customers that you only have $50 of cash in the register and that employees are not able to access the safe. Placing signs to this effect on the premises will let would-be criminals know that their potential gains are minimal. Thus, no robbery.


Visibility. Increasing visibility also increases the number of potential witnesses. Generally, criminals do not like to be seen committing the crime, and they will avoid their various criminal-type activities when others are watching. Obviously, visibility increases the perception of getting caught and deters robbery. There are several ways that store owners/managers can accomplish increased visibility.

1. Use good lighting inside and outside of the store. This limits dark shadows as hiding spots and also makes the store seem more inviting (more customers will come in to spend money!).

2. Avoid putting signs and advertisements in the windows of the store. Having too many signs and boxes in the windows gives potential criminals places to hide from view of store clerks and witnesses. Also, taking down this obstructing signage allows customers to see all the goodies in the store to buy.

3. Install security cameras and have monitors in customer view. The presence of cameras, and the knowledge that they exist (hence, the monitor in view) is a deterrence of criminal behaviors.

4. Increase “natural surveillance”. Natural surveillance is a 10 dollar term that means more people walking around and naturally watching. Organizations probably want more people in their stores, anyway, so this shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.


Accessibility. Controlling accessibility is like controlling the traffic (both by foot and by car) into and out of your store and parking lot. You want to limit the number of ways that customers enter the store to give employees an easier job of being vigilant. It is also worth considering the escape routes that potential crooks can take. Having a wide open parking lot that leads to a street makes for an easy escape, and criminals take this into account when sizing up a potential hit. Here are some simple suggestions:

1. Lock doors so that people cannot enter the store through them. Remember that you want people to be able to exit the store through the door in case of emergency. Which brings me to the second point:

2. Install alarms (with signs) which go off when the door is opened. It is possible to have these alarms directly notify the police and fire departments for a prompt response time.

3. Use large, decorative gardens or cement plant containers to control traffic flow in the parking lot. These can be placed in such a way as to force a left or right hand turn or so that they are entering a one-way street in a direction away from a quick get away (i.e., away from the highway).


Records. It is important to continually up-date your safety and violence prevention plan and make sure that you are using what works for your unique and super-fantastic location. The best way to do this is to keep records of every incident. Include what happened, under what circumstances, and what follow-up measures were taken. From this information, you can take note of any trends that you would want to correct. For example, are robbers frequently entering from the door on the south side of the store and exiting on the north side? It might be a good idea to limit the entrance to the north side and the exit to the south. Documenting events is the only way to determine if your distinctive plan is working to prevent workplace violence and crime.

Keep in mind the workplace violence prevention strategies listed above are most effective if you follow all the steps. There is no research testing the effectiveness of these steps if taken by themselves. For example, no one knows what would happen to workplace violence events if we only put up signs that said that there was only chump change in the register. But, if you use each of these techniques together, you can significantly reduce your risk of workplace violence.

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