Unfortunately, workplace violence is a common problem in the United States. Although it often appears random and uncontrollable, in fact, precautions can be taken to limit the potential for violence and mitigate the harm that violent incidents may cause.
Although large-scale incidents – such as the one this past spring in Alabama in which a man killed ten former co-workers and family members before taking his own life – garner big headlines, less dramatic, yet highly dangerous incidents play out in workplaces every day. The LHSFNA strongly recommends that every employer put a workplace violence policy in place to help its employees handle these fearful situations.
- Fighting, including pushing, shoving and slapping
- Verbal abuse in person or over the phone
- Offensive jokes or pranks, slurs, ridicule
- Insults, threats
- Ganging up, bullying and intimidation
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Malicious damage to property of employees, clients or the business
- Concealing or brandishing a weapon
A variety of factors contribute to workplace violence, but stress may be chief among them. Some of this is work-related – fatigue and frustration from pressure to get the job done, sometimes without days off and with exceedingly long hours. Non-work stress factors can be just as significant – medical problems, financial difficulties, relationship issues and family matters. Not knowing how to manage these issues, supervisors and employees bring the stress to work and take it out on subordinates or co-workers.
In certain situations, hostility and violence are fueled by racial, gender or other prejudices. While we wish everyone would be tolerant, we know that some individuals are controlled by bigotry and bias.
All these factors can be aggravated by the larger economic crisis.
During 2006 (the last year for which full data are available), 551 Americans were killed by workplace violence. Beyond this grim statistic, approximately two million Americans were the victims of workplace violence that did not escalate to a killing. Most commonly, violence manifests itself as harassment or bullying.
Harassment is any unwelcome, discriminatory conduct that shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his or her race, skin color, religion, gender, national origin, age, sexual orientation or disability. Bullying means intentionally applying an imbalance of power or strength to intimidate or unnerve a target.
Often, workplace violence gets out-of-hand because it is not addressed at an early stage. For this reason, employers should have a clear policy in place and move aggressively to enforce it when problems first arise. The LHSFNA’s Health Promotion Division is compiling a guide to help create effective company workplace violence programs. Entitled Workplace Violence Prevention – What Every Employer Should Know and Do, the manual will be available this summer. After introducing the subject matter, the manual elaborates on definitions, case studies, components of a comprehensive program, identifying potentially violent situations, responding to violence, witnessing altercations and managing the aftermath. It also provides a sample company policy, incident report form and toolbox talk materials. Participating employers and local unions can order copies through the Fund’s online catalogue.