Workplace violence (WPV) or occupational violence refers to violence, usually in the form of physical abuse or threat, that creates a risk to the health and safety of an employee or multiple employees.
According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2011, violence and other injuries caused by persons or animals contributed to 17% of all occupational fatalities, with homicides contributing to 10% of the total. From 1992 to 2010, there were 13,827 reported workplace homicide victims, averaging over 700 victims per year, in the United States. Examination of the 2011 data shows that while a majority of workplace fatalities occurred to males, workplace violence disproportionately affects females. Homicides contributed to 21% of all occupational fatalities for women, compared to 9% for men. Of these homicides, relatives or domestic partners contributed to 39% of female homicide cases; male homicide cases were most likely to be perpetrated by robbers, contributing to 36% of male homicide cases.
Most cases of workplace violence turn out to be non-fatal incidents. From 1993 to 1999, an average of about 1.7 million people were victimized each year in cases of occupational violence. About 75% of these cases are considered simple assault, while 19% of cases are considered aggravated assault.
- Patrick Henry Sherrill, a 44-year-old mail carrier from Edmond, Oklahoma, was reprimanded after a heated argument with two supervisors on August 19, 1986. At approximately 7:00 AM the following morning, Sherrill showed up at the post office in his uniform. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, Sherrill went on a murderous rampage, gunning down any employee who crossed his path. After sealing off the exits, Sherrill ended up murdering 14 coworkers and wounding six others. When police arrived at the post office, Sherrill turned the gun on himself.
- On November 5, 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan, a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas. The shooting produced more casualties than any other on an American military base. The United States Department of Defense and federal law enforcement agencies have classified the shootings as an act of workplace violence. In February 2015, the Army "determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude Hasan “was in communication with the foreign terrorist organization before the attack,” and that his radicalization and subsequent acts could reasonably be considered to have been “inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”
- David Burke was employed by USAir as a ticket agent until his supervisor, Raymond Thompson, fired him for theft. After Thompson refused to give Burke another chance, Burke showed up at Los Angeles International Airport on December 7, 1987, and purchased a ticket for Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 to San Francisco International Airport. Burke smuggled a .44 Magnum onto the plane. Shortly after the plane took off, the cockpit’s flight recorder picked up gunshots. Then came the sound of David Burke’s voice. It wasn’t long before Flight 1771 crashed into a hillside in San Luis Obispo County, killing all 43 people on board, including Burke and Thompson. At the crash site, an airsickness bag was found containing a message which Burke had written for his former supervisor. It read: “I asked for some leniency for my family, remember. Well, I got none. And you’ll get none.”
- Verbal-passive-indirect (failure to deny false rumors about target, failure to provide information needed by target)
- Verbal-passive-direct ("silent treatment", failure to return communication, i.e. phone calls, e-mails)
- Verbal-active-indirect (spreading false rumors, belittling ideas or work)
- Verbal-active-direct (insulting, acting condescendingly, yelling)
- Physical-passive-indirect (causing others to create a delay for the target)
- Physical-passive-direct (reducing target's ability to contribute, e.g. scheduling them to present at the end of the day where fewer people will be attending)
- Physical-active-indirect (theft, destruction of property, unnecessary consumption of resources needed by the target)
- Physical-active-direct (physical attack, nonverbal, vulgar gestures directed at the target)
In a study performed by Baron and Neuman, researchers found pay cuts and pay freezes, use of part-time employees, change in management, increased diversity, computer monitoring of employee performance, reengineering, and budget cuts were all significantly linked to increased workplace aggression. The study also showed a substantial amount of evidence linking unpleasant physical conditions (high temperature, poor lighting) and high negative affect, which facilitates workplace aggression.
In the United Kingdom there is a legal obligation to complete risk assessments for both physical and psychosocial workplace hazards. Other countries have similar occupational health and safety legislation in place relating to identifying and either eliminating or controlling for hazards in the workplace. Workplace violence is considered to be a significant hazard in its own right. Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that, “every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of:
- The risks to the health and safety of his (or her) employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
- The risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct of him or his undertaking".
Occupational groups at higher risk
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety lists the following higher risk occupations.
- health care employees
- correctional officers
- social services employees
- municipal housing inspectors
- public works employees
- retail employees
Health care workers are at high risk for experiencing violence in the workplace. Examples of violence include threats, physical assaults, and muggings. According to estimates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work was 15.1 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2012. This rate is much higher than the rate for total private industries, which is 4.0 per 10,000 full-time workers.
Monitoring workplace violence trends is essential to identifying targeted prevention strategies. The Occupational Health Safety Network (OHSN) is a secure electronic surveillance system developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address health and safety risks among health care personnel. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can upload the occupational injury data they already collect to the secure database for analysis and benchmarking with other de-identified facilities. NIOSH works with OHSN participants in identifying and implementing timely and targeted interventions. OHSN modules currently focus on three high risk and preventable events that can lead to injuries or musculoskeletal disorders among healthcare personnel: musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling activities; slips, trips, and falls; and workplace violence. OHSN enrollment is open to all healthcare facilities.
- Abusive supervision
- Industrial espionage
- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Occupational health psychology
- Occupational safety and health
- Workplace aggression
- Workplace conflict
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- Workplace Violence News & Resources
- Before the Storm: Workplace Safety Webinar
- PDF (6.08 MiB)
- Safety and Health Topics from www.osha.gov
- Violence on the Job, video from NIOSH
- Half of Large Employers Had Workplace Violence Incident in Last Year
- Workplace Violence Q&A - CCOHS
- Work and Family Researchers Network
- Workplace Violence, 1993-2009 Bureau of Justice Statistics
- Workplace Violence Against Government Employees, 1994-2011 Bureau of Justice Statistics