OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” OSHA estimates that about 2 million workers report violent workplace incidents each year. The actual number of incidents is thought to be much higher as many events probably do not get reported.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workplace violence typically falls into one of four categories:
Type I—Criminal Intent. In this kind of violent incident, the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees. Type I violence is usually incidental to another crime such as robbery, shoplifting, or trespassing. Acts of terrorism also fall into this category.
Type II—Customer/Client. When the violent person has a legitimate relationship with the business—for example, a customer, client, patient, student, or inmate—and becomes violent while being served by the business.
Type III—Worker on Worker. The perpetrator of Type III violence is an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens other employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace.
Type IV—Personal Relationship. The perpetrator in these cases usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work.
All forms of workplace violence are on the rise. Half of HR professionals are reporting that their organization has experienced some form of workplace violence incident. This number is up from 36 percent in 2012. And the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) now reports that 1 out of 7 Americans do not feel safe at work.
It’s generally agreed that the healthcare industry is the most susceptible to workplace violence, often at the hands of unruly or disgruntled patients. But it is also agreed that work in retail is also high risk. Looking at the four types of workplace violence, retail workers are four for four in terms of exposure.
Not all workplace violence can be prevented. But all employers are responsible for adhering to OSHA’s General Duty Clause that states that all employers, regardless of size, must provide a place of employment “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious harm.” In terms of workplace violence, here are some things all employers should do to help protect workers:
- Have a written zero-tolerance policy towards workplace violence and develop a written prevention program.
- Provide workplace violence training emphasizing what to look for, what to report, and what to do during an actual incident.
- Encourage reporting of concerns or specific incidences. Make reporting easy and, potentially, confidential.
- Consider using outside expertise to provide threat assessment training and physical security upgrades.
NIOSH developed the following guidelines to prevent violence for employers whose workers have direct contact with the public:
1. Use physical barriers to protect workers.
2. Install silent alarm systems and panic buttons.
3. Use mirrors and raised platforms.
4. Use bright and effective lighting.
5. Ensure sufficient staffing levels to ensure a safe working environment.
6. Use drop safes and post signs indicating only a limited amount of cash available.
7. Use height markers on exit doors.
8. Use video surveillance equipment to monitor all activity.
9. Control or limit access to the facility.
10. Install locks on doors that lead to staff-only areas.
As mentioned, workplace violence cannot be prevented 100 percent. But, in today’s world, a concerned and well-informed employer who provides policies, awareness, physical security, and training to help reduce it is a must.
This article was originally published in April 2021, and was updated in April 2022.