The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite. About 2 million people each year report some type of workplace violence. It is estimated that 25 percent of workplace violence goes unreported.
During the holiday season these incidents can be more common. The holidays often highlight very specific stressors such as financial problems, familial or marital issues, substance abuse, depression and even the weather. All these things can cause seemingly enjoyable events, such as holiday office parties, to put people at risk of workplace violence. This is in large part due to the intense social pressure of interacting with coworkers during what could be a difficult time and people being under the influence of alcohol. Much of it depends how well someone handles stress of both a personal and professional nature.
Most workplace violence incidents can be broken up into 4 main types; Criminal intent, customer/client, worker on worker, and personal relationships.
The first type, criminal intent, involves a perpetrator that has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees. Rather, the violence is incidental to another crime, such as robbery, shoplifting, or trespassing. Acts of terrorism also fall into this category.
Type 2, customer/client, involves a violent person that has a legitimate relationship with the business. The perpetrator is a customer, client, patient, student, or inmate and becomes violent while being served by the business. A large portion of customer/client incidents occur in the healthcare industry, in settings such as nursing homes or psychiatric facilities. Police officers, prison staff, flight attendants, and teachers can also become victims of this kind of violence. About 20 percent of all workplace homicides resulted from Type 2 violence. This category accounts for the majority of nonfatal workplace violence incidents. Your workplace may be at risk for Type 2 violence if your business involves dealing with criminals, individuals with mental illness, or even everyday people that are confined and under stress, such as airplane passengers who have been sitting on the tarmac or customers waiting in long lines for a store to open. Black Friday is an especially violent day in the retail industry for this reason.
In the third type, worker on worker, the perpetrator is an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens other current or past employees in the workplace. Worker on worker fatalities account for approximately 15 percent of all workplace homicides. All workplaces are at risk for this type of violence, but workplaces at higher risk include those that do not conduct a criminal background check as part of the hiring process, or are downsizing or otherwise reducing their workforce.
The final type, personal relationships, involves someone who usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim or victims. This category includes victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work and account for about 7 percent of all workplace homicides. This type of violence can occur in all workplaces but is most difficult to prevent in workplaces that are accessible to the public during business hours, such as retail businesses, or businesses that have only one location, making it impossible to transfer employees who are being threatened. Women are at higher risk of being victims of this type of violence than men.
Being aware of the types and causes of threats can be a very powerful tool in preventing these incidents. Share this information with your colleagues. They may not realize that they are currently in one of these situations that could have the potential to escalate. Workplace violence is one of the major causes of death in the corporate world, second only to transportation. This growing issue can have very damaging effects on morale, reputation and revenue; making it something businesses need to address sooner rather than later.