Workplace Violence: A Growing Concern

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Workplace violence has become one of the biggest concerns for managers, corporate executives and Human Resource Departments in the past several years. In fact, the shear number of incidents of workplace violence is staggering.

A report issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) after an extensive study, showed that "homicide is the second leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States. The report stated that almost 1,000 workers are murdered, and 1.5 million - about 1-in-4 - employees are assaulted in the workplace each year. According to the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), in 1998 alone, there were 709 workplace homicides which accounted for 12% of the over six thousand fatal work injuries in the United States that year."

A Global Concern

This issue is not limited to the United States, as some might assume. It seems that every country is showing a marked increase in the number, frequency, and severity of workplace violence incidents every year.

Duncan Chappell and Vittorio Di Martino, in their work entitled: "Violence in the Workplace," say that a 1996 European Union Survey showed that during the prior year, four percent of workers (about 6 million) were subjected to physical violence while at work or on duty. They also say that, "workplace violence - be it physical or psychological - has gone global, crossing borders, work settings, and occupational groups.

Who is at Risk?

Statistics show that, although no single occupation is immune from violence, violence in the workplace can definitely be seen to be clustered in certain occupations. Occupations having many, if not all, of the following characteristics also show the highest rate of incidents:

* Contact with the public
* Exchange of money
* Delivery of passengers, goods, or services
* Having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab or police cruiser
* Working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social service, or criminal justice settings
* Working alone or in small numbers
* Working late at night or during early morning hours
* Working in high-crime areas
* Guarding valuable property or possessions
* Working in community-based settings

Depending on the area, taxi drivers had, by far, the highest incident rates. But, again, this is not to be seen as a national or international thing, but something that is dependent on the region where the assaults occur. The number one occupational group suffering the greatest number of assaults is not police and security officers as is often believed. No, the occupation shown to be most at risk are retail sales people, including but not limited to, convenience store personnel. This group is followed closely by those in the service industries like administrative personnel, teachers, and medical professionals. In fact, a report on incidents in one of the "calmest" countries - Sweden - shows medical professionals to be the highest occupation victimized by assault and other workplace violence. And, contrary to popular belief as reported by the media, the greatest threat comes, not from within a company's ranks but from outside.

The most difficult part of getting to the truth of the matter, as with all statistical data, is the fact that the numbers are probably far lower than what is actually occurring. Just as Human Resource managers and the companies that they represent are concerned about legal action in regards to giving reference information about past employees, most are also fearful of their public image should word spread about assaults against their employees.

Prevention and Countermeasures The growing trend for dealing with the problem of workplace violence is in teaching employees, supervisors, and executive management how to spot trouble signs before they occur. This is an excellent place to start to build a sound program. As with anything involving danger, the more information and awareness that can be developed, the more effective we can be in preventing the danger from ever occurring.

However, no program can be considered complete without including employee training for effectively handling, escaping, and surviving actual physical assaults. The fact is, that no amount of understanding and preventative measures will stop certain assailants from attacking. At that point, all that remains is for effective action that will ensure the physical safety and survival of the intended victims.

Remember: Workplace violence is real. It can happen to any employee, in any company, at any time. And, it can happen to you or someone you care about.