Are you prepared for violence in the workplace?

Earl, an activities worker for seniors in Vancouver, B.C.

Earl works at a seniors activity centre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – and, for the most part, people are peaceful.

In his job as an activities worker, Earl calls BINGO, offers computer training, and leads music classes for elder clients who visit the centre to socialize with their peers. Some live in an adjoining seniors building and others live elsewhere in this neighbourhood known for its struggle with poverty and addiction.

I asked Earl via Facebook about his training in violence prevention. He said he and his colleagues in the recreation department take seminars on the topic every two years.

After 10 years on the job, he’s only had one brush with violence: someone threw peas and carrots at him.

“I got called to the cafeteria for back up because a drunk lady was grabbing food from the tables. Next thing you know, the drunk lady was throwing peas and carrots my way because I was there to help escort her out of the building,” he said. “When someone’s obviously under the influence, my duty is to let security deal with it via walky-talky, and only intervene when there’s a real need for back up, which has only happened for me once in the last 10 years.”

Earl questions the value of repeating the seminars so many times, especially when his experience at work has been so peaceful.

“The workshops are very useful to new employees, but it becomes monotonous for us who’ve been there many, many years,” said Earl. “I also treat people with respect no matter what their background. And, I always smile at everyone. Working in the Downtown Eastside, I’ve seen a lot, but I don’t have a lot of stories concerning myself.”

Maybe that’s because Earl has such a mellow, non-confrontational personality. He’s also seen a lot of violence firsthand in the neighbourhood. I can see how the workshops might seem redundant, based on his own life and work experiences.

But maybe there’s something about violence that warrants so much preparation against it. Our city has a lot of angry, hurting people in it and we never know when we will face an outburst from someone in crisis. It can happen so suddenly – at work or out in public – and it’s helpful to think in advance what you would do if you became the target of someone’s anger.

See more information from WorkSafeBC on preventing Violence.


2 thoughts on “Are you prepared for violence in the workplace?

  1. Kevin Jones

    Ten years ago Claire Mayhew published several occupational violence reports for the Australian Insitute of Criminology. Because these weren’t produced by an OHS regulator, they received less attention than they could have done in the OHS field but I found them invaluable and still refer to them.

    At least one of the is available online – “Preventing Violence Within Organisations:A Practical Handbook” –


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