Workplace Violence: Can the Risk be Mitigated?

By Martha J. Zackin

Workplace violence is once again in the headlines, due to the horrific, on-air murders of a journalist and cameraman allegedly by a disgruntled former employee of the television station that employed the two victims.

But what exactly is workplace violence?  Workplace violence, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), may be defined as violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty.  The results of workplace violence may range from offensive language to homicide; the circumstances may include robbery-associated violence; violence by disgruntled clients, customers, patients, inmates, residents, and the like; violence by coworkers, employees, or employers; and domestic violence that finds its way into the workplace.

However defined, workplace violence is a significant problem in the United States.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2013 there were 404 homicides reportedly due to assault at work, down from 475 in 2012 and 468 in 2011. Workplace violence – including assaults and suicides – accounted for 17% of all work-related fatalities in 2013.  As per a 2015 press release issued by the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), in 2013 there were more than 23,000 significant, non-fatal injuries reportedly due to assault at work.[1]  Although the majority of these assaults were in healthcare, social services, and retail settings, workplace violence can strike anywhere.

Although employee- (and former employee-) related violence makes up only a small percentage of injuries and fatalities associated with workplace violence, the risk of employee violence may be the hardest to mitigate.   Sometimes, there are warning signs; many times, there are none.

To mitigate risk, all workplaces should develop and maintain a workplace violence prevention program.  As described more thoroughly in NIOSH Current Intelligence Bulletin 57, employers should establish a system for reporting and documenting violent incidents in the workplace, in order to assess the nature and magnitude of workplace violence in a given workplace and quantifying risk.  Implementation of the reporting system, a workplace violence prevention policy, and specific prevention strategies should be publicized company-wide, and appropriate training sessions should be scheduled.

Above all else, stay safe.

[1] For more numerical and statistical information, please see the BLS Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), the BLS Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII), the Consumer Product Safety Commissions’ National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS-Work Supplement), the Bureau of Justice Statistics’  National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), and information published by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).