Not too long ago, a group of employees at a private company would meet after work, enjoy a few beers and head home. It’s a ritual that is repeated countless times across the country, in almost every type of job category. Employees often get together outside of the workplace for food, fun and to simply enjoy each others’ company.
Unfortunately, the group that was meeting after work for beers ended one day, when one member of that group walked into the loading dock area of the company and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing several of his co-workers, and wounding others. While a few employees stated afterward that they weren’t surprised, most people who worked at that company had no idea that any type of violence would happen at their company.
The Statistics on Workplace Violence are Staggering
Obviously, killings are not the norm when it comes to violence in the workplace. According to the National Safety Council there are over 1.5 million reports of workplace violence every year. And what makes matters worse is that estimates show that 25% of workplace violence incidents are not reported, which brings the total number of violent encounters closer to 2 million incidents each year.
Sadly, workplace homicides are on the rise. The National Safety Council reports that there were 454 workplace killings in 2019, which was a significant increase over the previous year. And while you might think that the victims knew their attackers, you’d be wrong. In 2018, for example, 54% of violent incidents involved strangers according to Britain's Health, Safety and Environment agency.
Professions at Greater Risk
While workplace violence can and does occur in almost every type of workplace setting and within every type of profession, law enforcement tops the list, as one might expect. However, it’s not just on-the-job attacks that happen to law enforcement officers. It also happens to corrections officers and even judges. In fact, an even more disturbing problem is that those types of attacks can also happen to members of the worker’s family. In New Jersey, for example, a federal judge’s son was killed in 2020 by an attacker who was stalking the judge, after obtaining her personal information, including her home address.
While you might not be surprised that law enforcement is at the top of the list for incidents of workplace violence, you may be surprised to learn that healthcare professionals rank second. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), violence against healthcare workers is soaring. In fact, in 2020, a survey of 15,000 nurses by National Nurses United showed a 20% increase in violence in the healthcare setting.
And here’s another disturbing statistic - according to a study in 2016 published in the New England Journal of Medicine, 100% of emergency room nurses experience an incident of workplace violence. That means every emergency room nurse had at least one episode of violence. These incidents included kicking, biting, scratching, hitting and spitting, among other types of injuries.
Social workers are another high-risk group, and considering the demographics of the clients they deal with, it doesn’t come as a surprise. But the volume of workplace violence is surprising - the Bureau of Labor Statistics noted that social workers and similar professionals were 5-times more likely to experience workplace violence. And social workers have stated that many times their clients look up personal information about their family and use it to threaten the workers.
Other careers impacted by workplace violence are journalism, social media influencers and, not surprisingly, chief executives and other high-ranking business leaders. Angry employees, angry customers, angry stockholders are all involved in attempting to take out their frustrations or disappointments on the company’s leaders.
The impact isn’t only on the CEOs and executives, managers are susceptible to workplace violence as well. Employees who are laid off or fired will blame their supervisor or a co-worker who either reported them to management or was perceived to be complicit. These are often the most violent confrontations, and the ones that lead to deaths.
Avoiding Workplace Violence
How can we minimize if not avoid workplace violence completely? It’s up to each company, hospital and business to have policies in place that address workplace violence, and offer ways to combat it. There has to be a clear-cut reporting mechanism, and each report must be assessed and dealt with. If there are obvious places where violence can occur, such as a hospital emergency room, security must be in place to protect workers. OSHA has prepared a thoroughly informative guide on preventing workplace violence.
To avoid people from accessing personal information about workers and their family members, employees should remove all of their unauthorized data from people-search sites, including US Search, Pipl and Intelius. Everyone should be made aware that there are more than 100 of those sites that store sensitive personal information, and each one has its own way of deleting the data and opting out. While it takes a lot of time to do this, it’s crucial that it be done.
Everyone should be encouraged to report behaviors that point to potential violence. Outbursts, marked changes in behavior, pushing and shoving and other acts of aggression should be documented, and when necessary, authorities should be notified. You simply can’t take chances that “nothing will happen” when it comes to potential violence, as the statistics show.
Here’s something else you should do: involve a trusted friend or colleague and share any concerns you have about other employees, customers, clients or management. Document any particular incidents and provide them with a copy, just in case a problem comes up that involves some type of violence at your workplace. It’s always better to be safe than sorry - and this is especially true with regard to potential violence where you work.
Following the suggestions and recommendations within this article will help to create a safer, less violent workplace.