Everyday in the United States millions of Americans leave their homes and enter the places of their employment. Captain Among these millions, most report to work unaware of the prevalence of workplace violence or fully understand the gamut of actions that represent such violence. It is typical of the media to only report high profile cases including a former employee or a worker losing control - the most extreme of these scenarios in which victims succumb to severe injury or homicide. Although it is commonplace for media outlets to cover the most disturbingly sensational scenes, workplace violence is also a legitimate concern outside the realm of the most severe circumstances. Workplace violence has the potential to not only physically, but emotionally harm employees and others interacting at the work location.
Put simply, workplace violence is considered to be the violence or the threat of violence against workers. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), workplace violence includes but is not limited to: any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other act of disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site (USDA, 1998). Furthermore, workplace violence is not confined to only employees. It can also affect and is relevant to visitors, contractors, and other non-employees at the work site. The triggers of workplace violence can be a consequence of various emotionally internal and physically external experiences that can occur within or outside the work environment. The resulting workplace violence that can arise from these triggers is impossible to predict, as human behavior can not be calculated. Although a specific profile does not exist for perpetrators of workplace violence, there are warning signs and prevention methods for businesses to utilize to promote safety for employees and non-employees.
To initiate these prevention methods it is imperative to understand the history of workplace violence. By understanding previous incidents of workplace violence one can assess security inadequacies, evaluate risk, and estimate other security threats. Establishing a basis for security weaknesses leads to development in response protocol to better prepare those for threatening situations. Another integral component of security is to educate employees on what constitutes workplace violence and its prevalence in the workforce. Employers and human resource personnel should also educate employees regarding tolerance of workplace violence and available resources for coping with such occurrences. Knowledge is an important tool for reducing security risks and promotes empowerment for those who have been victimized by workplace violence.
Workplace violence is a relevant concern for employers and businesses as thousands of Americans encounter such violence in various forms on a daily basis. To better understand the dynamic of such violence one must first examine its history. From the history one can begin to comprehend the prevalence of workplace violence. By recognizing its commonality one gains awareness for warning signs and triggers, and is able to better prepare security responses. In instances of non-life threatening workplace violence, businesses can address these circumstances with education and resources for employees to exercise. As businesses understand these elements, the workforce can strive for the ultimate goal regarding workplace violence: prevention. Prevention is crucial to eliminating workplace violence and the greatest ally to provide physical and emotional safety to workers.
The first recognition of the necessity for workplace safety was the initiation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Act of 1970. The motivation behind the commencement of OSHA was to protect workers from harm on the job, including job-related death, injury, and illness. It was the first federal program aimed at protecting the entire workforce from the hazards of job requirements (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007). However the limitations of OSHA were confined to work-related harm, providing assistance only to employees physically affected by the demands of their job. At the time of its implementation, the concept of workplace violence had yet to be defined, let alone be understood as a legitimate threat to the well-being of the workforce.
The first incident of workplace violence to reach the public domain as a result of media attention occurred on August 20, 1986. The perpetrator was Patrick H. Sherrill, a part-time letter carrier, who walked into the Edmond, Oklahoma, post office where he worked and shot fourteen people to death before taking his own life (Isaacs, 2001). According to the Department of Justice, the Edmond killings were the first to raise public awareness for what is now considered "workplace violence." As tragic as this event was, it was not the first of its kind. In the three years prior to the Edmond killings, four postal employees were killed by coworkers in separate shootings in South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia. It was not until the murders in Edmond did such tragedy receive national attention.
Concerns regarding workplace violence among public and private sector businesses continued to grow as awareness amplified. However, in the early 1990s, statistical information was not available to develop prevention methods. Statistical data maintained by OSHA at the time tracked employees that were injured or killed at the work location, but did not maintain record of those injuries and deaths caused by current or former employees. In 1994, the Workplace Violence Research Institute interviewed more than six-hundred professionals in a variety of fields affected by workplace violence. The goal of the study was to calculate the annual financial loss due to incidents of violence. The events were categorized into one of five categories: fatalities, rapes, aggravated assaults, threats, and acts of harassment. The results of the investigation estimated that workplace violence measured a $36 billion annual cost to businesses (Morris, 2010).
In the following years, the media continued to intensify this seemingly new trend as mass murders continued to occur in the workplace at the hands of unstable employees. In the United States, no area of the country, or profession, was exempt from these incidents. In Southern California alone, from 1989-1997, there were fifteen workplace homicide events, resulting with twenty-nine deaths. In the years following, major crimes in the workplace included four executives killed by a Connecticut lottery accountant in 1998; a Xerox employee murdered seven coworkers in Honolulu in 1999; a software engineer killed seven at the Edgewater Technology Company in Wakefield, Massachusetts, in 2000; four were slain by a former forklift driver at Navistar Plant in Chicago in 2001. Additional workplace homicides occurred in New York, Missouri, and Mississippi during 2002-2003 - all resulting with multiple fatalities (Isaacs, 2001).
The cases of workplace homicide are the most severe, distinct, and haunting. These captivating accounts peak the attention of the media, however they do not represent the full magnitude of workplace violence as a whole. The instances of multiple homicides comprise a very small number of those who have been victimized, and do not encapsulate the prevalence of workplace violence. According to OSHA, two million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year. The actions that constitute workplace violence include the act or threat of physical violence, intimidation, emotional and sexual harassment, or any other threatening and abrasive behavior occurring at the work location. Workplace violence is not restricted to employees and business personnel, and can affect anyone in the workplace, including customers, visitors, etc.
Everyone can be subject to workplace violence, as it does not discriminate. Some professions and specific job requirements, however, put those at increased risk. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration indicates workers at higher risk consist of jobs that require employees to exchange money with the public, delivery services, those that work alone or in small groups, late night and early morning workers, high-crime areas, or in positions that demand extensive contact with the public (U.S. Department of Labor, 2002). Examples of such professions include healthcare providers, utility employees, food services industry workers, and retail workers.
The Department of Justice advises most incidents that employees and managers have to "handle" on a day-to-day basis include lesser cases of assaults, domestic violence, stalking, threats, emotional and sexual harassment, physical and emotional abuse. Most of these cases remain unreported to company officials, let alone the police (Isaacs, 2001). In relevance to cases that have been reported, various studies and investigations have been conducted to examine such factors as prevalence, high-risk groups, and profiles to compare characteristics shared between victims of workplace violence.
In one such recent study, a research team investigated workplace violence prevalence and risk factors among nurses. As members of the healthcare community, nurses endure one of the highest rates of reported incidents; their interaction with the public and the urgency of their services provided already placing them at greater risk. This research was conducted among 2,166 nursing personnel from four healthcare organizations, and examined the prevalence of workplace violence experienced by nurses compared to demographic, adult and childhood abuse histories, and other risk factors.
The study from this focus group concluded that 19.4% of nursing personnel experienced physical workplace violence, and 19.9% experienced psychological violence. The risk factors relevant to this study group included: being a nurse, working in the emergency department, white, male,…