Violence in the Workplace Today
Violence in the workplace is now at epidemic levels according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In a report released in July 1994, the Bureau offered the following data:
About 1,000,000 individuals are the victims of some form of violent crime in the workplace each year. This represents
approximately 15% of all violent crimes committed annually in America. Approximately 60% of these violent crimes were
categorized as “simple assault” by the Department of Justice.
Of all workplace violent crimes reported, over 80% were committed by males; 40% were committed by complete strangers to
the victims, 35% by casual acquaintances, 19% by individuals well known to the victims, and 1% by relatives of the victims.
Over half of the incidents (56%) were not reported to police, although 26% were reported to at least one official in the
In 62% of violent crimes the perpetrator was not armed; in 30% of the incidents the perpetrator was armed with a handgun.
In 84% of the incidents there were no reported injuries; 10% required medical intervention.
61% of violent incidents occurred in private companies, 30% in government agencies, and 8% to self-employed individuals.
At the time of this survey, 18% of the workforce was employed by the government.
It is estimated that violent crime in the workplace caused some 500,000 employees to miss 1,751,000 days of work
annually, or an average of 3.5 days per incident. This missed work equated to approximately $55,000,000 in lost wages.
In April 1994, USA Today Magazine reported on the results of a survey undertaken by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). These results provided an additional view of violence in the workplace from the point of view of human resource managers. The total number of responses to the survey was 479. Although this information cannot be considered to be as reliable as the data provided by NIOSH (due to the subjectivity of some of the questions), the results are illuminating and give a certain feel for violence in the workplace. The SHRM survey revealed the following information:
Regarding violent incidents in the workplace:
1.33% of all managers surveyed experienced at least one violent incident in the workplace.
2.32% of these managers noted that one or more of the acts had occurred since 1989.
3.54% of these managers reported between two and five acts of violence in the five years prior to the survey.
Regarding the type of violence experienced:
1.75% of the reported incidents were fistfights.
2.17% of the incidents were shootings.
3.8% of the incidents were stabbings.
4.6% of the incidents were sexual assaults.
Regarding the victims of the incidents:
1.54% of the incidents were employee against employee.
2.13% of the incidents were employee against a supervisor.
3.7% of the incidents were customers against worker(s).
Regarding the sex of the perpetrator:
1.80% of all violent acts were committed by males.
Regarding the injuries sustained by the victims:
1.22% of the incidents involved serious harm.
2.42% of the incidents required medical intervention.
Regarding the reasons for the violent incidents:
1.38% were attributed to “personality conflicts.”
2.15% were attributed to “marital or family problems.”
3.10% were attributed to “drug or alcohol abuse.”
4.7% were non-specific as to attribution.
5.7% were attributed to “firing or layoff”.
Regarding crisis management programs:
1.28% of the organizations had a crisis management program in place prior to the violent incident.
2.12% of the organizations implemented a crisis management program after the violent incident occurred.
Regarding the effect of a violent incident on the workplace:
1.41% of the organizations reported increased stress levels in the workplace after a violent incident.
2.20% reported “higher levels of paranoia.”
3.18% reported “increased distrust” among employees.
This survey did not focus on homicide to the exclusion of other forms of violence in the workplace; the results of the survey indicate a good deal about the prevalence, nature, and result of violent workplace incidents generally. If the responses are considered to be substantially reliable, this survey clearly indicates that the American workplace is becoming even more violent than was determined by the original NIOSH survey.
NIOSH data advised that 2 million Americans reported being physically attacked at work in 1992. The estimated medical cost for
these injuries was $13.5 billion. The estimated number of employees injured in 1993 was more than 2.2 million. There have been
at least 750 workers murdered in the workplace each year between 1980 and 1989, and this number continues to grow. By 1992 the annual number of occupational homicides in the United States was over 1000. In that same year there were over 111,000
significantly violent incidents which cost employers an estimated $6.2 billion in lost wages, medical costs and support costs.
Additional information about occupational homicide and violence in the workplace has been sporadically reported by a variety of
media and other sources. These reports tend to support the data previously presented and indicate that the workplace has become
more dangerous in the 1990s than it was in the 1980s.
In 1992 the National Crime Victimization Survey disclosed that over 650,000 workers were assaulted while at work; this represented about 11% of all violent crimes committed in the United States that year. In the same year, Northwestern Life Insurance Company surveyed 600 full time employees to learn more about workplace violence. The survey noted that 3% of workers had been physically attacked, 7% had been threatened, and 19% had been harassed.
Information in the media, though scattered, also supports the conclusion that workplace violence is growing at an alarming rate:
1.In February 1994, Safety and Health Magazine stated that, in 1992, approximately two million Americans reported being
physically attacked at work. These incidents resulted in $13.5 billion in medical costs.
2.Business and Society Review, in their Spring 1994 issue, reported that, in 1992, 17% of all fatal injuries in the workplace
resulted from occupational homicide. Over 80% of these victims were killed with guns.
3.Psychology Today, in their January/February 1994, issue stated that there were “more than 2,000 (violent) incidents in
American post offices in the last four years alone.” This number is considered to be conservative.
4.In an article specifically aimed at workplace homicide within the Postal Service, Training and Development magazine noted
that 36 workers had been killed, and an additional 20 injured, at postal premises around the nation between 1986 and 1993
5.The September 1994 issue of Redbook magazine sported a major headline which read, “Shootings are the #2 cause of
death in the workplace.” Although no citation was specifically provided for this piece of information, it is a statistic which
appeared to be supported by other publications available in the latter half of 1994 and early 1995.
6.In August 1994 the California Department of Industrial Relations released a detailed report on workplace homicide. In that
report the Department noted that 195 workers were victims of workplace homicide in 1993; a 22% increase from the
previous year. During the same year, 125 workers died in traffic accidents. Thus, for the first time in California history, murder
surpassed traffic accidents as a cause of death in the workplace. The report also stated that women in the workplace were
increasingly at risk because domestic violence was frequently spilling over to the job site. Nearly one half of the women who
died on the job in 1993 were victims of occupational homicide.
Commenting upon this report, the chief of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration said:
“We’re not sociologists, but it seems there’s a connection to the general societal problems of crime and drug use,” said John
Howard, chief of the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Also, there’s a higher frustration level of employees who are threatened by economic layoffs.”
Certainly this information, alone, drives home the fact that workplace violence is at epidemic levels in American society, with no
apparent end in sight.
These citations are but a short selection of the increasing number of journal articles which have recently carried information dealing with violence and homicide in the workplace. Appendix A provides a sample list of other journals which have carried such articles since 1990. It seems that the subject of occupational homicide may finally be the recipient of the recognition appropriate to its impact upon American society.
Americans are now beginning to fully understand that workplace violence is a problem of national scope which can effect anyone. In a TIME/CNN general population poll taken in April 1994, 37% of those surveyed cited workplace violence as a growing problem in the nation. Of the respondents, 18% had personally witnessed some form of workplace violence and the same number (18%) feared for their own safety at work. This growing awareness represents the first step in an organization’s ability to enact strong violence prevention techniques in the workplace.