An Expanded Workplace Violence Typology

Improving Threat Detection, Mitigation, and Response Capabilities

This Resiliency Brief was co-authored by Steven Crimando, Director of Training for the Disaster and Terrorism Branch of the New Jersey Department of Human Services' (NJDHS) Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Current incidents of violent extremism in the US and abroad demonstrate the need for an expansion of the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) workplace violence typology (see Figure 1), to include ideologically motivated violence.

According to OSHA, workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the workplace. For more than two decades this has been the standard model for types of workplace violence. However, several notable incidents of ideologically motivated violence originating at, or impacting the workplace, occurred in 2015—indicating the need to expand OSHA's four-type model.

Generally, ideologically motivated violence is any unlawful act of force or violence committed to coerce a government or civilians in support of political or social objectives. This definition does not discern between radicalized and non-radicalized persons, nor does it exclude persons with mental health disorders.

As seen in Figure 2, the attacks at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, TX, Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris, France, the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, and the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA, represent an intersection between workplace violence and terrorism that has yet to be addressed by OSHA. According to the University of Maryland's National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), extremist attacks in the United States between 1970 and 2012 most frequently occurred at places of business—further indicating the potential for terrorism as a source of violence in the workplace.

A proposed fifth type of workplace violence, Type V, would include ideologically motivated violence directed at or affecting an organization, its employees, and/or properties. In each of the attacks mentioned above, employees were attacked by extremists at their place of work. The expanded typology, inclusive of Type V workplace violence, acknowledges that workplace violence and terrorism are not mutually exclusive.

Based upon OSHA’s classic four-type model, workplace violence prevention programs focus on the warning signs of Type I through IV, and their specific risk indicators. However, research into the pre-incident behaviors of mass shooters and homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) suggests that there are unique behavioral indicators of this type of violence that are not consistent with the conventional warning signs of workplace violence. These unique indicators include the eight signs of terrorism, and the behavioral patterns linked to radicalization.

The warning behaviors associated with violent extremism are acute and dynamic, presenting patterns of behavior rather than individual risk factors. These kinds of behavioral indicators and patterns can be included under the proposed Type V, and adopted into OSHA's workplace violence training platforms for federal, state, and local partners.

NJOHSP currently offers trainings on target hardening techniques and technologies, including the widely available active shooter training. Through these established programs, an expansion of OSHA's workplace violence typology would enable NJOHSP to further develop a training platform to aid in identifying not just the classic warning signs of workplace violence, but also those associated with the proposed Type V. Doing so would help employers improve their chances for early recognition and intervention of ideologically motivated acts of violence in the workplace.

For more information, please contact NJOHSP's Preparedness Bureau at