3 Tips for Employees Threatened with a Knife


In June 2022, a man posing as a patient stabbed two nurses and a doctor at Encino Hospital. Many nurses have reported still feeling unsafe at their workplace thanks to this horrific attack. And nurses aren't alone when it comes to being threatened with a knife. 

While a knife literally lacks the firepower of a firearm. It's an incredibly effective weapon. It's easy to conceal. Fast to use. And hard to defend.

As a result, whether it's from a robbery, an angry patient or client, in a restaurant, while working in someone's home, or while providing services in the community, avoiding physical harm from a knife attack should be part of your employees' training in strategies to avoid physical harm from workplace violence.

In this post, and short video, I provide 3 tips for employees should they be confronted with a knife. It covers three critical safety concepts to understand and be able to implement immediately upon facing someone with a knife. 

  • Hands matching the weapon height.
  • Eyes focused on one thing only. The knife.
  • Controlling the weapon hand is key to safety.

With very limited exceptions, California requires all employers to “establish, implement, and maintain an effective workplace violence prevention plan” by July 1. 

I learned about violence, its causes, and its prevention during my 30 years of conducting civil and criminal litigation investigations, as well as third-party internal fact-finding investigations. And field tested the information I learned to keep myself safe while working in some very dangerous environments.

Get started working on your workplace violence prevention plan today. Download my free CA workplace violence prevention checklist.

Strategies to Avoid Physical Harm

Training employees in strategies to avoid harm from physical violence is a required element of implementing your workplace violence prevention plan.

While it's always preferable to avoid threatening situations entirely, or to de-escalate them when possible. Sometimes circumstances don't give your employees the ability to do so. And then physical harm becomes likely.

So employers need to ensure that employees understand what to do in a variety of situations, including how to respond to an attacker armed with a knife.

These three tips are critical to understand and implement. Doing so provides the opportunity to stop an attacker armed with a knife before being seriously harmed.

Tip #1: Matching Your Hand Height to the Weapon Height

 A knife can be used to injure or kill in a multiple ways, It can be used quickly to slice or stab from many different angles and from different heights. 

Because of this versatility, the first thing to learn when confronted by someone with a knife, is to have your hands at the same height as the knife is held. 

If the knife is being held up high to be used in a downward motion, your hands have to be held up high. If the knife is held down at waist height to stab straight forward then your hands must be down at waist height.

Because of the speed of a knife attack, if your hands are out of place, and not matching the height the attacker is holding the knife at, any effort to stop the attack will be too late.

That's why it's the first thing to learn. To even have a chance to stop a knife attack, you've got to have your hands where they can help.

Tip #2: Your Eyes Need to Be Focused on One Thing Only... The Knife

When facing an attacker armed with a knife. Nothing matters but the knife. That's why regardless of anything the attacker says or does with anything but the knife is irrelevant.

If you are watching his face or eyes, his shoulders, or anything else but the knife, you'll never be able to respond fast enough to prevent the attack. It really is that simple.

Even if he yells at you, or demands "look at me", or provides some other kind of verbal direction to you, keep looking at the knife. Do NOT take your eyes off the knife. 

He can't stab you with his eyes, or his voice. If he moves, or tries to hit with his other hand, or kick you, which isn't very likely since he's holding a knife. It doesn't matter. But, the knife moving does. And you need to react to the knife moving as quickly as possible to have any kind of a chance to avoid physical harm.

Tip #3: Control the Hand that Controls the Knife

In self-defense, we use the phrase "trapping the weapon". What that means is to gain control of the weapon.

Doing so keeps the weapon from being used against you repeatedly. The more times a weapon is used, the more likely you are to be injured or killed by it. For different types of weapons there are different ways to gain control of the weapon.

With a knife, that means controlling the hand that holds the knife, and doing so where the wrist and the hand come together.

If you grab too high up the arm, the knife can still be used to stab or slice you. If you grab the attacker's hand itself, the attacker can pull the knife away from your hand with a quick movement, and then quickly use the knife. Grabbing with two hands makes it harder for the attacker to pull away, but it's difficult to grab quickly with both hands.

If you can grab with one hand first, then you can bring the second hand into play to really get good control of the weapon. 

Remember the focus is on preventing the knife from being used again, and again, and again.

We haven't address knife disarming techniques here. As without understanding and being able to implement these three tips, you won't have the chance to disarm the weapon. There's obviously a lot more that can be learned to keep from being harmed by an attacker with a knife, like using foot work to take yourself out of the line of an attack. 

But those can wait for another day. First and foremost, avoiding physical harm comes from understanding and implementing these three tips.

If you’d like someone familiar with workplace violence prevention to look over the workplace violence prevention plan and program you’re developing, send me an email at [email protected].


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