The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) defined workplace violence as, "...any physical assault, threatening behavior, or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting." (NIOSH, 1996)
Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. Unfortunately, many more cases go unreported. Research has identified factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites. Such factors include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile, unstable people. Working alone or in isolated areas may also contribute to the potential for violence.
All too frequently, employees become victims of violent acts that result in substantial physical or emotional harm. For injured or threatened employees, workplace violence can lead to medical treatment, missed work, lost wages, and decreased productivity.
For many occupations, workplace violence represents a serious occupational risk. Violence at work can take many forms: harassment, intimidation, threats, theft, stalking, assault, arson, sabotage, bombing, hostage-taking, kidnapping, extortion, suicide, and homicide. For each murder, there are countless other incidents of workplace violence in which victims are threatened or injured.
Here are some recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for workplace violence:
Source: Workplace Violence. (2012) The National Center for Victims of Crime. Retrieved from http://www.victimsofcrime.org/library/crime-information-and-statistics/workplace-violence
Occupational health researchers have classified workplace violence into the following 4 types:
In Type 1 violence, the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees, and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence (robbery, shoplifting, trespassing).
Type 2 violence is common and deals with the customer/client relationship to include clients, patients, family members, and visitors, and is referred to as client-on-worker violence. In the healthcare industry, research shows that this type of violence occurs most frequently in emergency and psychiatric treatment settings, waiting rooms, and geriatric settings, but is by no means limited to these.
Type 3 violence between coworkers is commonly referred to as lateral or horizontal violence. It includes bullying, and frequently manifests as verbal and emotional abuse that is unfair, offensive, vindictive, and/or humiliating though it can range all the way to homicide. Worker-on-worker violence is often directed at persons viewed as being "lower on the food chain" such as in a supervisor to employee though incidence of peer to peer violence is also common.
In Type 4 violence, the perpetrator has a relationship to the employee outside of work that spills over to the work environment. For example, the husband of an employee follows her to work, orders her home and threatens her, with implications for not only this employee but also for her coworkers and visitors.
Training is a critical component of any prevention strategy. Training is necessary for employees, supervisors, and the staff members of each department who may be involved in responding to an incident of workplace violence. Training and instruction on workplace violence ensures that all staff is aware of potential hazards and how to protect themselves and their co-workers through established prevention and control measures.
While most everyone agrees there are clear warning signs before most acts of workplace violence, what action should be taken varies.
Nevertheless, making information available to employees about the potential for violence in the workplace, how to recognize the early warning signs of a troubled or potentially violent person, and how to respond to such a person, could save a life.
Not all individuals who are distraught over services (or lack thereof) or their termination of employment will become violent. The primary type of training that may be beneficial to all employees is that which concentrates on conflict resolution.
Supervisors and managers must be trained to recognize high-risk situations, so they can ensure that workers are not placed in assignments that compromise their safety. Such training should include encouraging workers to report incidents and to seek the appropriate care after experiencing a violent incident.
In general, training should cover the policies and procedures for a facility as well as de-escalation and self-defense techniques. Both de-escalation and self-defense training should include a hands-on component. The following provides a list of possible training topics:
In most workplaces where risk factors can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel.
It is critical to ensure that all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. In addition, OSHA encourages employers to develop additional methods as necessary to protect employees in high risk industries.
Company programs can also be implemented without a written policy statement. In these companies, employees are often given information about the program (especially whom to call) in training sessions, on posters, in newsletter articles, or by other similar methods. Companies have an inherent right to take action against employees who engage in disruptive or threatening behavior whether or not they have issued a written policy statement.
A workplace violence policy statement should convey that:
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