Facing the Threat of Workplace Violence

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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), workplace homicides accounted for 403 out of 4,679 fatal workplace injuries that happened in the U.S. in 2014. As workplace violence is a serious issue impacting the lives of millions of U.S. workers each year, employers and managers must take preventative measures to combat the possibility of workplace violence and to ensure employee safety.

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National Statistics on Workplace Violence

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) defines workplace violence as, “Any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”

Every year, almost 2 million U.S. workers are reported to be victims of workplace violence. From 2005 to 2009, approximately five violent crimes were reported for every 1,000 workers.

Even though workplace violence decreased overall between 2002 and 2011, workplace homicides increased among government employees. On average, 18.9 out of 1,000 government employees are reported as victims of simple assault in the workplace each year, compared to 4.6 employees in the private sector.

Homicide is the fourth most common cause of fatal workplace injuries in the United States, with males accounting for 83.1 percent of people killed in workplace homicides.

In 2011, 152 fatalities resulting from workplace violence involved government workers, while 136 involved workers in retail, 131 involved workers in food-related industries and 101 involved workers in other industries.

Most workplace homicides are committed via shootings, with 76.2 percent of workplace homicides in 2014 involving this method. Approximately 9.7 percent of workplace homicides involved stabbing, 6.2 percent involved beating or shoving, 2.7 percent involved multiple acts and 1.7 percent involved strangulation.

The risk of workplace violence increases if a worksite serves alcohol or is located in an area with a high crime rate. This risk becomes greater when employees exchange money with the public, work alone, work late at night, or provide services and care.

Customer service agents, delivery drivers, health care professionals, law enforcement personnel and public service workers are also more likely to be affected by workplace violence.

Warning Signs and Negative Effects of Workplace Violence

While some instances of workplace violence are not preceded by clear warning signs, it may be possible to prevent violent escalation by paying attention to indications of a troubled or disgruntled employee.

Before becoming violent in the workplace, an employee may begin exhibiting one or more of these troubling behaviors.

A troubled employee may disregard others’ health and safety, or test the limits of acceptable conduct to see what they are capable of getting away with. They may complain about unfair personal treatment or repeatedly talk about the same problems without taking steps to resolve them. Complaints about nonspecific or unusual illnesses, unpredictable or sudden changes in energy levels, or temper tantrums involving crying or sulking may also signify a troubled employee.

A potentially violent individual could also display a number of warning signs, including threatening or intimidating behavior, negative personality traits, noticeable changes in mood or behavior, an increase in stress levels, or a history of violent behavior.

Workplace violence may have a negative effect on employees, possibly causing a higher risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a decreased ability to function at work, and disturbed relationships with close friends and family members. A violent experience at work may also lead to depression, irritability, insomnia, self-blame and fear.

Tips for Preventing Workplace Violence

Employers and managers have access to many free and informative government resources. Formed under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides helpful tips and guidelines for preventing workplace violence. The National Safety Council also offers tips for preventing violence in the workplace.

Here are some simple tips for minimizing and preventing workplace violence:

  1. Don’t underestimate the possibility of experiencing violence in the workplace.
  2. Address every possible threat.
  3. Offer professional support to any troubled individual.
  4. Train personnel in resolving conflict peacefully.
  5. Encourage employees to report disrespectful, suspicious or violent behavior.
  6. Design and implement a comprehensive program to prevent violence.

By establishing a set of administrative procedures, employers may be able to prevent workplace violence. This may include implementing the following controls:

  • Using bulletproof glass, metal detectors, panic alarms and security cameras can hinder troubled individuals who are attempting to harm employees. Setting up entrance controls and escape routes can prevent violent escalation in the workplace as well.
  • Establishing procedures to record accidents, close calls and verbal abuse, giving employees company cell phones, offering self-defense training and prohibiting employees from working alone can also help avert workplace violence.
  • However, taking extra precautions and removing high-risk individuals is especially important when working with patients in health care facilities or residents of social service facilities.
  • Establishing a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence that covers employees, patients, clients, contractors and anyone else in contact with company personnel is also recommended.
  • A workplace violence prevention program could be added to an employee handbook, a health and safety program, or a manual of standard operating procedures.

Due to the continual efforts of government agencies and employers, the prevalence of workplace homicide has decreased significantly in the past few decades. Safety, Science and Emergency Management personnel must address the challenges of developing stronger preventative procedures for the sake of keeping workplaces safe and secure.