Last week’s shocking on-air murders of two television journalists in Virginia has again brought attention to the issue of workforce violence. We have posted many blogs dealing with issues associated with workplace safety. Unfortunately, as we approach Labor Day, we feel compelled to explore workforce violence in America.
OSHA reports that more than 2 million Americans are subject to workplace violence each year, ranging from mass shootings to threats and verbal abuse. Incidents occur in every state and every industry. While companies in the health care, social services, security services, public administration, education, law enforcement, retail trade, public transportation, and accommodation and food services sectors are most frequently the targets of workforce violence, no company is immune.
Let’s begin with an examination of the statistics gathered by the National Crime Victimization Survey, Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (DOL BLS), Department of Justice (DOJ) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Violence is a leading cause of fatal injuries at work with about 1,000 workplace homicides each year. Violence against employees occurs in a variety of circumstances and situations including: robberies and other crimes, actions by frustrated or dissatisfied clients and customers, acts perpetrated by disgruntled co-workers or former co-workers, and domestic incidents that spill over into the workplace.
Fatalities related to violence by co-workers receive the greatest media attention, but account for only a small proportion of all workplace violence related fatalities. Violence by strangers accounts for most of the fatalities related to workplace violence. Late night retail establishments and taxi cab drivers are at greatest risk of violence by strangers. Workplace homicides are also committed by an assailant who either receives services from or is under the custodial supervision of the affected workplace or the victim. This includes passengers, patients, students, inmates, criminal suspects or prisoners. At risk workers include municipal bus or railway drivers, health care and social service providers, teachers and law enforcement personnel. Domestic violence also spills over into the workplace when an assailant confronts an individual with whom he or she has or had a personal relationship outside of work.
Yet, an analysis by The Washington Post indicates a rise in workplace killings by co-workers. Changes made by the BLS to its data collection methodology make it impossible to generate actual results between 2010 and 2011, but the trend up to 2010 increased from below 10 percent of workplace murders to more than 12 percent, and under the new methodology, the share of killings by co-workers has gone up each year since 2011.
The FBI reports that mass shootings have been occurring more frequently in recent years, with 160 incidents – nearly one incident a month – from 2000 to 2013. Excluding the deaths or injuries of the shooters, 486 people were killed and 557 wounded. These numbers also exclude shootings related to gang or drug violence. Most of the shootings were carried out by males. Seventy percent of the incidents “occurred in either a commerce/business or educational environment,” the FBI said. However, while the 2013 data is being finalized, workplace homicides appeared to decrease 16% compared to 2012. Unfortunately, the time required by the government to analyze and issue actual results makes it difficult to project trends in workforce violence.
Non-fatal Acts of Violence
Every year, approximately two million American workers are victims of non-fatal violence at the workplace.
The DOJ reported in 2011 that Government employees experienced a rate of nonfatal workplace violence that was more than three times the rate for private-sector employees.
The higher rate of workplace violence in the public sector was due in part to the high rate of violence against government employees in law enforcement or security. In both the public and private sectors, law enforcement and security personnel experienced the highest annual average rates of workplace violence.
Serious violent crime (rape, sexual assault, robbery or aggravated assault) accounted for a larger percentage of workplace violence against private-sector employees (25 percent) than government employees (15 percent) from 2002 to 2011. However, government employees experienced three times more simple assault than those in the private sector.
There is some good news – the actual rates of workplace violence have declined substantially in both the public and private sectors. The annual average rate of violence against government employees declined 82 percent from 1994 to 2011, compared to a 72 percent decline in the private sector.
Advice on Reducing Workforce Violence
While we all recognize that no workplace is immune from violent incidents, companies can increase their odds of safety by establishing Violence Prevention Programs. We have summarized the advice given by human resources and mental health experts:
Perhaps the best place to start is with conversations with permanent and temporary employees. Do they feel safe at work? Are there areas that need to be addressed? Do they know what actions to take when observing behavior that may be cause for concern? By engaging both worker classes, you will have a more holistic view of how your operation truly functions, and where you may be vulnerable. Using their input, create and maintain a Workforce Violence Prevention Program that minimizes the risk to your organization and workers.
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