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Here are the differences between workplace violence, de-escalation, and active threat awareness trainings

Programs and courses designed to educate workers or employees about what to do during an incident of workplace violence, active threats (including active shooter situational awareness), and other reasonable and foreseeable threats have a lot of overlap.

VPC has offered a workplace violence prevention program and active threat awareness training course for years and the need for one, both, or a combination of the three can be challenging to recognize.

Defining workplace violence, active threats, and de-escalation

Venn diagram with overlays of examples of workplace violence, active threats, and de-escalation situations
Some of the various forms of violence, threats, and escalations overlap with each other.
  • Workplace violence is a broad umbrella term that includes everything from nonfatal verbal abuse, sexual assault or harassment, intimidation, and physical contact. Physical contact could include a weapon or fighting. 
  • Active threats increasingly get more attention because of news coverage of high-profile incidents. Active threats are just one type of workplace violence and include shootings, stabbings, and any individual with a weapon.
  • De-escalation is a process where people use specialized training to calm people down, distract, or otherwise reduce the threat of violence. This can include calmly talking to a suicidal person with a weapon or an agitated dementia sufferer confused about what’s happening around them. It can also include an employee reducing the risk of violence or sexual assault through verbal and physical cues.
Upset senior patient talking with a doctor
Healthcare workers, especially nurses and home health aides, can benefit from de-escalation training for mentally ill patients

Who are these trainings best suited for?

An angry male restaurant customer talks to a young female waitress.
Front-line restaurant and retail workers, especially those in late-night or convenience store businesses, are among the most targeted groups.

Workplace violence prevention programs are best suited for any workplace that might suffer a violent act.

We suggest everyone undergo some kind of workplace violence and active threat awareness course. Like how loggers and oil field workers naturally are more prone to risk of injury on the job, some workplaces and jobs are more prone to acts of violence. Government workers, such as those facing the public and in-high risk positions like court workers, public defenders, prosecutors, and clerks in the criminal justice system are among the highest risk groups.

Some restaurant workers working in high-risk locations, such as late-night fast food establishments or shops connected to late-night service stations, should undergo workplace violence prevention training. All restaurant workers can likely attest to the need to undergo de-escalation techniques from upset or angry customers. 

Every workplace, every mall, every tourist destination, every office, hospital, factory, school, and sometimes our homes are places where individuals can become violent. Knowing what to look for and how to react may help save your life and the lives of others.

When should I undergo workplace violence prevention training?

Two female colleagues hitting each other with paper binders.
Workplace conflict can escalate from verbal abuse, to yelling, or mild or severe physical altercations.

Workplace violence is not limited to criminal intent, so anyone working in large organizations that might interact with many other employees, co-workers, customers, and clients should consider workplace violence prevention training a worthy investment. 

Statistically, workplace violence occurred most often with healthcare workers, lawyers, social workers, and retail workers. Some are more at risk of a violent act than others due to their positions.

Workplace safety for all industries must include ways to recognize, respond, and act against violence. 

Learn more about workplace violence training

When should I undergo active threat training?

News of active threats, including active shooter situations, may encourage more employers to offer active threat awareness trainings. These trainings are designed to teach employees:

Photo of a young man holding an assault rifle, facing away, wearing a backpack
Churches, malls, schools, and any public space or workplace is a potential target from virtually anyone inside and outside a building
  • Ways to identify unusual signs through situational awareness—such as a person wearing a coat in the summer or carrying large cases at times or places that seem unnecessary.
  • How to respond when a threat is identified, either by running away from the scene, running into a building when a threat is outdoors—like on a college campus, and securing themselves in a hiding place if they’re trapped indoors.
  • And how to fight back using any means necessary to take down a threat when all other options are exhausted. 

More commonly, active threat situational awareness may include safety and security planning for employers.

Vantage Point routinely consults with large facilities such as manufacturing plants and healthcare facilities on ways to improve their physical security. This can include ways for leadership to assess current or former employee aggression, creating an action plan to assist law enforcement and police officers during or after an incident, knowing who is in charge of the incident command structure, and encouraging employees to learn ways to get help when they need it, like counseling.

Learn more about active threat awareness and training

When should I undergo de-escalation training?

A hiring manager talks calmly to de-escalate an irritated job applicant.
HR professionals, managers, shift leaders, and other employees can benefit from de-escalation training to calm agitated, irritated, or otherwise angry people down before they escalate situations.

Workplace violence often results from poor communication, even when talking with people who are suffering a mental illness such as Alzheimer’s or depression.

  • De-escalation training offers the best way to identify emotional and physical behaviors of people posing a risk to safety and techniques to calm them down. 
  • De-escalation training focuses almost as much on what not to do as what you should do. For instance, joking with violent people or trying to tackle someone armed with a weapon is risky in most every situation.
  • De-escalation improves safety and security often by stalling and keeping people talking until skilled response teams, like armed SWAT officers, can arrive.

Managers at supervisors in workplaces have a responsibility to give their employees the best protection through skills and knowledge before they become victims.

Learn more about de-escalation training

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