The incidents cited in the sidebar are examples of workplace violence at its most sensational. In all likelihood, your workplace will never be the scene of an event of similar magnitude. At your worksite, you will more likely encounter incidents of harassment, intimidation, bullying, theft and drug trafficking. These behaviors are typical of the violence that occurs all too frequently at today’s workplaces.

Violence at Work

Nidal Hasan was a disgruntled psychiatrist and U.S. Army major grappling with pending deployment to Afghanistan. His approaching departure apparently ignited long-simmering dissatisfaction with the U.S. government. Jason Rodriguez was a deeply-in-debt, transportation engineer fired two years ago for poor performance. Now working at a sandwich shop and taking home a greatly reduced paycheck, he smoldered with rage as his financial woes worsened. In November, the pent-up frustrations of these two men exploded within 24 hours of each other.  At Fort Hood, Texas, Hasan went on a shooting rampage, mowing down 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding 42. In Orlando, Florida, Rodriguez showed up at his one-time place of employment and turned a gun on former colleagues, killing one and wounding five.

In the construction industry, the economy has led to layoffs and reduced hours, creating financial anxiety for employee and employer alike. Additionally, English is frequently not the first language spoken at construction jobsites leading to misunderstanding and hostility. Separately or together, these factors generate stress and increase the potential for fighting, verbal abuse, threats, robbery and malicious damage to property of employees, clients or the business. Left unaddressed, any of these behaviors and activities can lead to more serious incidents and, eventually, injury or death. In 2006, violence was the fourth leading cause of death in the workplace for men and the second leading cause for women.

Unlike the events at Fort Hood and in Orlando, most episodes of workplace violence do not make national headlines. As in the case of most crimes, regardless of where or when they take place, unless you live or work where these acts occur, you never know they happen. However, for workers and, especially, employers, every incident of workplace violence is insidious and must never be ignored.

Anyone can be a victim of workplace violence, but there are measures that can lessen the likelihood of a workplace becoming a crime scene. These include:

  • Respond promptly to immediate dangers and threats to employees and the workplace.
  • Take threats and threatening behavior seriously; employees must feel safe when coming to a supervisor about a possible safety issue.
  • Maintain confidentiality; investigations of workplace violence should not be discussed with employees who do not need to be involved.
  • Have a no tolerance policy; never condone or forgive a violent matter of any kind.

The LHSFNA offers a new workplace safety program that assists in the prevention and management of workplace violence. It can be ordered through the LHSFNA’s online publications catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]