Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

Engineering Facilities to Prevent Workplace Violence

As a facilities management (FM) professional, you are probably not writing workplace violence prevention plans. However, you probably are looking at facility design, and facilities managers can be key in helping their buildings and tenants with hazard identification and engineering controls used to prevent violence.

Workplace violence prevention

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Violence is the third leading cause of fatal occupational injuries behind transportation incidents and falls, slips, and trips. In 2017, 807 workers died on the job due to violence, according to data compiled by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The figure does include 275 suicides but also includes 351 shootings and 47 stabbings.

The BLS also reports that 39,750 nonfatal occupational injuries in 2017 were due to violence in the workplace. Injuries from violence in the workplace led to a median 4 days away from work. Causes of nonfatal injuries included:

  • 16,950 instances of beating, hitting, kicking, or shoving;
  • 130 stabbings;
  • 70 shootings;
  • 40 strangulations; and
  • 40 rapes.

Hazard Identification

Because of their familiarity with facility operations, processes, and potential threats, FM employees play a critical role in hazard identification and worksite analysis. Employers should also consult employees in employee assistance, human resources, occupational safety and health, operations, and security.

Hazard identification should also involve a review of records, including injury and illness logs, as well as employee surveys and individual job hazard analysis.

A worksite analysis of a retail establishment would also consider whether the business has had to address other crimes like shoplifting. It should consider the types of patrons (for example, alcohol or drug users) and physical security factors like building layout and exterior and interior lighting.

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls available to facilities managers include:

  • Physical barriers (such as enclosures with bulletproof glass);
  • Door locks;
  • Metal detectors;
  • Monitoring systems, including closed-circuit video cameras, curved mirrors, glass panels in doors, and wall panels;
  • Panic buttons (at workstations or personal devices worn by employees);
  • Better or additional lighting; and
  • More accessible exits.

For drivers, barriers such as bullet-resistant glass can be effective engineering controls, as well as in-vehicle security cameras, “silent alarms,” and vehicle tracking devices such as global positioning satellite systems.

In late-night retail stores, engineering controls would include clear views for employees and police by keeping shelving low and signs high or low in windows. Store owners or managers also should ensure cash registers or customer service areas are clearly visible outside the store.

Administrative Controls in Healthcare Facilities and Retail

Healthcare facilities are especially prone to violence in the workplace, sometimes perpetrated by patients, sometimes by friends, relatives, or other visitors. Administrative controls in healthcare facilities can include:

  • Log-in and log-out procedures;
  • Communication strategies to inform others of a threat or incident;
  • Sharing travel plans;
  • Reports of violent history or incidents in staff updates during shift changes;
  • Double-teaming, ensuring workers are not alone;
  • Reporting threats or incidents of violence to supervisors;
  • Establishing a liaison with law enforcement agencies;
  • Creating written security procedures;
  • Providing employees with identification badges;
  • Discouraging the wearing of necklaces or accessories that could be used for strangulation;
  • Encouraging the wearing of caps or netting so hair cannot be grabbed; and
  • Using trained security officers, as well as personnel trained in de-escalation.

At late-night retail establishments, work practices should include:

  • Checking lighting, locks, and security cameras;
  • Using drop safes and keeping minimal amounts of cash in registers, as well as, posting signs that cashiers have limited access to cash;
  • Increasing staffing and using a “buddy system,”
  • Prohibiting acceptance of large bills (over $20, for instance); and
  • Developing and implementing procedures for proper use of enclosures and pass-through windows.


Training should cover the workplace violence prevention policy and related facility policies and procedures. It also should include hands-on sessions in de-escalation and self-defense techniques. While many of these trainings should be conducted by safety or security personnel, facilities managers should stay in the loop.

Training topics also can include:

  • Risk factors that cause or lead to assaults;
  • Policies and procedures for documenting incidents, threats, and behavioral changes;
  • Ways to recognize and prevent or diffuse volatile situations or aggressive behavior;
  • Early recognition of escalating behavior and recognition of warning signs or situations that may lead to assaults;
  • A standard response action plan for violent situations, including the availability of assistance, response to “panic buttons” and other alarm systems, and communication procedures;
  • The use of a “buddy system” to protect oneself and coworkers; and
  • Policies and procedures for reporting and recordkeeping.

Of course, the actions you take as a facilities manager must be tailored to your industry and geographic location and must consider the hazards unique to your facility.