Workplace Violence

The US Department of Labor defines workplace violence as “any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at a worksite.”

 Workplace violence is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths, according to OSHA. Annually, more than two million Americans face workplace violence.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that an average of 551 people each year was killed in work-related homicides in the United States between 2006 and 2010 (source: Daily Freeman News).

According to CNN, in 2013, 397 fatal workplace injuries in the United States were classified as homicides.

In the majority of workplace violence incidents, the attacker had displayed clear warning signs:

  • Patrick Sherrill, for whom the term “going postal” was coined, had a mediocre performance record and had had a heated argument with two supervisors for which he was reprimanded the day before he showed up in his uniform and murdered 14 coworkers, one of whom was the supervisor who had reprimanded him.


  • Larry Jasion, a postal mechanic, had a violent outburst because his coworkers were playing their radio too loud and because one of those coworkers had been promoted over Jasion. The next day, he murdered one coworker, injured two others, and killed himself.


  • Mark Richard Hilburn was a postal worker who had been suspended for stalking and harassing a female coworker. He later visited his mother, stabbed her to death, and killed her dog. He then went to the post office from which he had been suspended and opened fire, killing one employee and wounding another. As he tried to escape, he shot and wounded three additional people.


  • Frederick William Cowan worked for a moving company. He was a devout white supremacist who had an extensive Nazi memorabilia collection at his home. He had been suspended by his supervisor for refusing an order. Two weeks later, he walked into the building and murdered six people and wounded four others with a rifle. He then took his own life. Most of his victims were minorities. His primary target had been his Jewish supervisor who had suspended him.


  • Kenneth Tornes was a firefighter who was always arguing with his superiors, for which he had received several reprimands. One morning, Tornes shot his estranged wife and then went to the second floor of the firehouse and opened fire on his superiors, killing two fire captains and two district chiefs and wounding two other supervisors. He then wounded a police officer in a shootout before being apprehended.


  • At Yale University medical school, a supervisor lost his temper and pinned a young employee against the wall and savagely beat her in the face. A coworker who witnessed the assault described the incident as “the most violent rage that I’d ever seen in my life.” She said that, looking back, there were signs that the supervisor could be dangerous. She described him as moody and hostile and said he frequently called people offensive, obscene names.


  • Alton Nolen had three felony drug and assault and battery convictions along with an escape-from-detention conviction. His Facebook page displayed Islamic fighters and pictures of Osama bin Laden. Immediately after being fired from a food distribution company, he stormed out of the human resources department and drove to another building, hitting another car on his way. He entered the building and stabbed one woman, beheading her. He then slashed another woman.


  • Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor, killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard. He was armed with an AR-15 rifle, a shotgun, and a handgun. He had been discharged by the Navy two years earlier for a “pattern of misconduct,” according to a Navy official.


  • Omar Thornton went on a rampage and killed eight people at the beer distribution center where he worked as a driver. When police arrived, he shot himself to death. The rampage took place as he was leaving a disciplinary hearing where he had been asked to resign after videos showed him stealing beer from the company.


Indicators That an Employee May be Dangerous:

  1. Excessive tardiness or absences
  2. Increased need for supervision
  3. Lack of performance
  4. Change in work habits
  5. Inability to concentrate
  6. Signs of stress
  7. Change in attitude
  8. Fascination with weapons
  9. Signs of drug and alcohol abuse
  10. Refusal to take responsibility for actions
  11. Refusal to cooperate with supervisor
  12. Short-tempered and argumentative
  13. Speech full of swear words
  14. Unwanted and inappropriate sexual comments
  15. Difficulty coping with major life change
  16. Fascination with publicized incidences of workplace violence
  17. Stops obeying basic company policies and rules
  18. Sees self as a victim of management
  19. Threats of suicide
  20. Threats to harm or humiliate coworkers


US Department of Health and Human Services – Warning Signs of Violence

Occupational Safety and Health Administration


Workplace Violence Resources


Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Workplace Violence

Society for Human Resource Management – Dealing With Violence in the Workplace

United States Department of Labor – Workplace Violence Program


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Ted Pelot Owner & President of Crime Scene Cleanup Company - Advanced Bio-Treatment