Violence in the Workplace

By:Anita HawkinsCategories: General

Many people believe violence is limited to physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem. Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside of the workplace. It is not limited to physical abuse, but can also be threats, verbal abuse and homicide. No matter how workplace violence is manifested, it is a growing concern for employers and employees.

According to OSHA, nearly 2 million American workers have reported being victims of workplace violence each year. Employees in almost every industry are at risk of workplace violence. Some workers are at an increased risk of being victims of workplace violence. Workers exchange money with the public; deliver passengers, goods or services; work alone, or in small groups, during late night or early morning hours, in high-crime areas, or in community settings and homes where they have extensive contact with the public. These employees typically hold jobs in healthcare, social services, community services and utilities, postal services, retail services and public transportation services.

Workplace violence could include:

  • Threatening behavior- shaking ones fists at another, destroying property, throwing objects
  • Verbal or written threats- any expression of an intent to inflict harm
  • Harassment- any unwelcomed behavior that demeans, humiliates, embarrasses, annoys, alarms, or verbally abuses another
  • Verbal abuse- cursing, condescending language, insults, or creating rumors about another person
  • Physical attacks- hitting, shoving, pushing, kicking
  • Other examples- pranks, arguments, vandalism, sabotage, theft, psychological trauma, rape, arson, murder

At times, workplace violence results in fatal consequences. In 2013, 397 fatal workplace injuries reported in the United States were classified as homicides. That means 9 percent of all workplace deaths are due to homicide. Female employees are at the greatest risk of workplace violence with homicide being the second-leading cause of death for women in the workplace. Also in 2013, 22 percent of the 302 fatal work injuries to women were homicides, as opposed to 8 percent for men. The type of assailants in these cases differed, depending on whether the victim was a man or a woman. Robbers and other assailants accounted for 72 percent of homicides to men, for example, and only 37 percent of homicides to women. A substantial difference exists when relatives and other personal acquaintances are the assailants: only 3 percent of homicides to men, but 39 percent to women. Assailants with no known personal relationship to their victims accounted for about two-thirds of workplace homicides.

Nothing can guarantee that an employee will not become a victim of workplace violence. By assessing their worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented zero-tolerance policy, combined with employee training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces. This zero-tolerance policy should cover all workers, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. It is very important that employees are well trained on the policy and understand the policies in place for investigating and remedying any and all reports of workplace violence.

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