Almost two million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year. Do you feel safe in your workplace? Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that happens at the worksite. Currently, homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. We know from the past that violence can happen at any time. Factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers include exchanging money with the public and working with volatile people. Those who work alone, especially in isolated areas are more vulnerable to robbery or assault. Working where alcohol is served may also lead to fighting or aggressive behavior.
Some occupations that may be susceptible to violence include:
- Social care workers
- Employees of late-night establishments: bars, restaurants, convenience stores
- Taxi drivers
- Law Enforcement personnel
- Delivery drivers
- Public Service employees
- Healthcare Professionals
Of course, we never know where workplace violence may happen. These are just a few of the occupations that come to mind when thinking of the risks that are involved. Healthcare professionals, especially those who must enter a home to care for someone, have the right to refuse to enter the home, if they feel it is unsafe. Emergency room staffs are prepared to see almost all types of violent behavior, and should have adequate security. Sadly, tragedies happen in the least expected places, as well, such as public schools, colleges, and military bases.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 3,000 people died from workplace homicide between 2006 and 2010. Their data also shows that more than 15,000 nonfatal workplace injury cases were reported annually during this time. BLS statistics show that in 2009, there were 542 workplace homicides and 15,450 workplace assaults, resulting in lost days.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
If employers take the appropriate precautions, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized. The best protection employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. Employers should identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents by assessing their worksites. It can be a separate workplace violence prevention program or incorporated into an injury and illness prevention program. All workers should know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly. Employers should develop additional methods as necessary to protect employees in high-risk industries.
Employees should receive workplace violence safety education and know how to avoid or defuse a situation. They should also be encouraged to report and document all incidents. Many incidents go unreported. In case of an incident, the police should be called immediately. Those workers who work alone or all night should be provided a hand-held alarm or noise device that sounds an S.O.S. Their supervisors should be kept informed if they have noticed any suspicious activity. We need to be more vigilant in watching for abnormal activity in our surroundings. If workers are aware there is a personal problem with a fellow worker, they should be extra cautious. Any security that can be provided may help prevent a tragedy.
Source: OSHA, NIOSH