Every year in the United States, an estimated 2 million people experience violence in the workplace. Serious injuries to workers due to workplace violence are common, as are fatal assaults. Of the 4,679 workplace fatalities in 2014, 421, or 9 percent, were homicides.
Risk Factors for Workplace Violence
Although no workplace is immune to workplace violence, certain occupations place workers at greater risk. According to the Office of Health and Safety Administration, these include:
- Health care workers: In the health care setting, assaults account for 10 to 11 percent of serious workplace injuries (those requiring time away from work) compared to 3 percent of workplace injuries in private industry.
- Social service workers: Social workers have frequent contact with clients who have a history of drug use, violence, or involvement with gangs, which places them at increased risk.
- Retail workers: More than half of all workplace fatalities occur in retail establishments such as gas stations, taxicab services and convenience stores, especially those that are open all night. Homicide – usually in the course of a robbery — is the No. 1 cause of death in these industries.
- Wait staff and bartenders in establishments where alcohol is served.
Domestic Violence in the Workplace
According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, intimate partner violence affects more than 12 million men and women in the United States each year. One in four women and one in seven men over the age of 18 are assaulted by a domestic partner annually.
When domestic disputes spill over into the workplace, tragedy often results. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, intimate partner violence accounted for over 350 workplace fatalities between 1997 and 2009, nearly 90 percent of them women. Thirty-three percent of women killed in the workplace are murdered by a current or former domestic partner or spouse.
Workplace Violence Between Co-Workers
By contrast, workplace violence that occurs between co-workers is less common than many people believe. Although cases like the 2014 shooting of Aron Thomas by co-worker David Reese at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection office in Kingston, New York, make headlines, they are rare and difficult to predict. According to OSHA, less than 8 percent of workplace violence occurs between co-workers, and homicides involving co-workers are extremely rare.
What Businesses Can Do to Help Prevent Workplace Violence
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, preventing workplace violence involves administrative, environmental and behavioral strategies. Some of these include:
- Keeping only small amounts of cash on hand and posting signs to that effect
- Accepting debit and credit cards, also to limit the amount of cash on hand
- Increasing counter heights or placing a physical barrier, such as a bulletproof enclosure, between employees and the public
- Installing and maintaining adequate outdoor lighting
- Increasing electronic security measures, such as closed circuit TV, video monitoring equipment and key card entry systems in fixed spaces and GPS trackers in taxicabs
- Limiting public access to health care settings
- Instituting a “buddy system” for social workers who visit clients’ homes, especially in areas where drug use is common and crime rates are high.
- Implementing a zero-tolerance policy towards workplace violence, which OSHA defines as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior” on the job.
- Educating staff about safety policies and putting in place a reporting system for incidents that occur
- Making staffing decisions that promote workplace safety, such as having a receptionist on duty to screen visitors, hiring security guards and never allowing employees in high-risk settings to work alone.
- Developing a domestic violence policy that specifically addresses the safety needs of victims of intimate partner violence.
- Training employees in conflict resolution, de-escalation strategies and appropriate non-violent responses to aggression
- Educating employees on the use defensive strategies, such as panic buttons, panic rooms and cellphones
- Training supervisors to recognize the signs of domestic violence and to act appropriately if they suspect an employee is being abused.
Protecting your employees from workplace violence may seem like a daunting task, but it is not one that you need to handle alone. OSHA provides free onsite consultations to small businesses who have questions about workplace safety. Additionally, our insurance specialists can help you develop a comprehensive risk management/employee safety plan. Call us today at 516-292-3780 or request a free consultation online now.