Jun 20, 2018

Should You Be Worried About Workplace Violence?

Part of a series for National Safety Month

Did you know that almost two million people were victims of workplace violence in the past year? That’s more than one in four workers each year, to the tune of over $121 billion in lost revenue. According to OSHA, homicide, the most drastic, is the third leading cause of workplace deaths in the U.S. These numbers are troubling, but when you recognize that many companies under-report non-fatal injuries and illnesses, they become even more so.

A recent Washington State study found that many incidents go unreported due to a lack of awareness by the company, a lack of communication within, or even a lack of incentive to report. Employees often don’t raise their hands because they don’t fully understand what constitutes violence or they fear retribution, and company executives are sometimes put off by the time-consuming Survey of Occupational Injury and Illness (SOII) reports they’d need to complete. So this begs the question:  How many more incidents actually occurred? Sadly, we don’t know.

Workplace violence can be defined in two ways. The first is more commonly recognized since it’s frequently covered by the media: A disgruntled customer or employee takes a firearm and shoots people at a place of work. In actuality, the more common transgressions fall under OSHA’s definition of “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work sites. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.” (Source: Workplace Violence Research Institute) 

Workplace Violence in Healthcare Settings:  Be Aware in Healthcare

After law enforcement, healthcare professionals are most at risk since they come into contact with a high volume of patients in unstable situations. In fact, they’re almost twice as likely as those in the private sector to be a victim of workplace violence (OSHA). Healthcare and social assistance professionals comprise 12% of our workforce, yet experience 75% of workplace violence incidents. Manufacturers and construction area workers also clock in higher than the U.S. average.

Here are some more facts:

  • A full 80% of EMS personnel have been maliciously attacked by patients.
  • Homicide is the second biggest threat to home healthcare professionals
  • Within the past year, 78% of ER physicians and 100% of ER nurses experienced violence at the hands of their patients
  • Between 2000 and 2011, American hospitals had 154 shootings

(Source:  Ravemobilesafety)

School Violence Prevention: Dangerous Lessons

The workplace that attracts the most media attention is schools. Aside from the terrifying rash of school shootings, faculty grapples with violence on a daily basis. Approximately 44% of teachers report being physically attacked at school each year. In fact, 80% of teachers recounted at least one experience in the current or past year, and 94% of these were perpetrated by students. Cost estimates to teachers, parents, and taxpayers come in at $2 billion annually.

How to Prevent Workplace Violence

So is your workplace at risk? OSHA identified these risk factors:

  • Do you have contact with the public?
  • Is there an exchange of money?
  • Do you deliver passengers, goods, or services?
  • Do you have a mobile workplace like a taxicab or police cruiser?
  • Do you work with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social services, or criminal justice settings?
  • Do you work alone or in small numbers?
  • Do you work late at night or during early morning hours?
  • Do you work in high-crime areas?
  • Do you guard valuable property or possessions?
  • Do you work in community-based settings?

Here are some OSHA-recommended deterrents:

  • Physical barriers like bullet-resistant enclosures or shields, pass-through windows, or deep service counters
  • Alarm systems, panic buttons, global positioning systems (GPS), and radios (“open mike switch”)
  • Convex mirrors, elevated vantage points, clear visibility of service and cash register areas
  • Bright and effective lighting
  • Adequate staffing
  • Arranging your furniture to prevent entrapment
  • Cash-handling controls, use of drop safes
  • Height markers on exit doors
  • Emergency procedures to use in case of robbery
  • Training in identifying hazardous situations and appropriate responses in emergencies
  • Video surveillance equipment, in-car surveillance cameras, and closed circuit TV
  • Establishing liaisons with local police

(Source: OSHA)

How Do We Fix This?

Education is critical when you’re deciding how to prevent workplace violence. If employees fully understand the OSHA definitions of workplace violence, they they’re more likely to recognize and report incidents. Employers have the responsibility to provide a safe environment, through prevention and through alerting the authorities. Every company should have an emergency action plan and be prepared to implement it with the help of local law enforcement. Employers must track and report incidents correctly and adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards workplace violence. For every dollar invested in preventing workplace violence, $3 or more is saved.

And finally, remember that even when you’re not working, you’re often visiting another’s workplace. So always be on the alert.

In our next post in this series, we’ll explore how to use technology to prevent incidents like these in hospitals and schools.