Violence In The Workplace
  A White Paper
by Guardian Security Services, Inc
13 December 1996
  Workplace homicide accounts for 17 percent of all workplace deaths. These numbers don't include deaths of innocent bystanders and non-employees which could number in the thousands also.

A Justice Department report released in 1994 said nearly 1 million violent crimes occur in the workplace each year. That amounts to one sixth of all violent crime in this country. The report goes on to suggest our personal belongings, our home and even our car are at greater risk while we are at work. They sited numbers of 2 million personal thefts and more than 200,000 car thefts that occur while people are at work each year.

The North Carolina-based National Safe Workplace Institute calculated the average cost to employers of a single episode of workplace violence can amount to $250,000 in lost work time and legal expenses.

In California and Texas, homicide is the leading cause of workplace death since 1983. These states and several others are implementing or drafting tighter workplace safety legislation (Erlich).

A 1993 survey by Northwestern National Life Insurance Co reveals 25 percent of all workers claim being harassed, threatened or attacked on their job that year. A full 15 percent claimed to have been physically attacked at some point during their working lives.

The U.S. Department of Labor lists the occupations most at risk for murder as being taxicab drivers or chauffeurs, then gas station attendant, retails clerks and police officers, and their were fast food and lodging services personnel. Risk is determined y the number of workers killed in relationship to the number employed in the field. (This explains why postal workers, who get the most bad press but who number in the millions do not appear on the list anywhere.)

Harassment is the leading form of on the job with 16 million workers being harassed each year. (Northwestern National Life Insurance Co. 1993 survey.)

Attacks by customers or clients are the most prevalent cause of violence at 44 percent, while 24 percent of attacks come from strangers and 20 percent come from coworkers. (Northwestern National Life Insurance Co. 1993 survey.)

Personality conflicts are cited as the leading cause of workplace violence (Society of Human Resource Management 1993 Report.)

Michael Stack, Executive Director of ASIS, stated in a March 1995 interview on CNBC that 1 million workplace violence incidents occur each year, leaving more then 2 million victims and accounting for a loss of $55 million in lost work time.

The Workplace Violence Research Institute in Newport Beach, CA, states, "the cost of workplace violence in the US is more than $36 million annually. This is an 850 percent increase from the previously estimated $4.2 billion, based on industry research. The increase is due to a broadened definition of workplace violence that now includes homicides, physical attacks, rapes, aggravated and other assaults, threats, intimidations, coercion and all forms of harassment and any other act that creates a hostile work environment (Knott).

  Addressing the problem is simply the right thing to do
  The frequency of incidents and subsequent cost of each incident is high enough to warrant serious attention by CEOs and company owners. The US Dept. of Labor's figure of 1, 063 workplace deaths a year translates to an average of three people dying at the workplace each and every day of the year. This figure does not account for the innocent bystanders that are undoubtedly caught in the mix. It seems likely and decidedly troublesome that at least several hundred people non-involved people are killed every year as well.

The impact of each incident is overwhelming. It is often compared to an airplane crash because when something happens, it receives several days worth of national coverage and creates a fear mentality that disrupts feelings of safety for some time to come.

Protecting employees and limited liability would be a good idea even if it wasn't legislated. Persuading even one person not to incite violence on the job is worth a concerted effort. This may not only save lives, but will also save emotional wear and tear on employees and will help prevent any negative feelings being attached to the products or company in question.

  Where does the liability lie?
  Employers have a general duty to "furnish to each employee, employment and a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or likely to cause, death or serious harm to the employee" under federal and state OSHA regulations.

Under the theory of respondent superior, an employer is vicariously liable for any actions committed by its employees within the scope of their employment. That is to say the employer can be held liable even if they did nothing wrong. The employer is liable for actions of the employee when the employee is working, even if the employee is acting against company policy (Watson).

An employer may be liable for failing to take adequate safety and security measures after they have been notified of a potential danger. San Francisco State College is currently under investigation for workplace safely violations because of a rape of an employee. The California Faculty Union claims that easy access to the building was a factor in the crime (Erlich). The case would have national implications.

A property owner may be liable for a third party assault occurring on the premises if the assault was foreseeable under the circumstances and the company did not provide adequate security measures (Watson).

Employers may be held liable on the grounds of negligent hiring or negligent retention of an employee who has a known propensity for violence. Employers have a common law duty to exercise reasonable care when hiring and retaining workers and can be held liable for employees actions both within and outside of the scope of employment where the employer knew or should have known that the employee poses a risk to others (Watson).

  Experts agree, the best approach is a tandem effort of protection and prevention.

Savvy business owners are limiting their liability by taking steps toward protecting their facilities and employees through tighter security measures. Contact security professionals that are knowledgeable on the topic. Ask them to come and do a site inspection to assess your needs.

Security measures most often recommended are:

  • security personnel on the premise before and after hours for employees working late
  • beepers for human resources and security personnel
  • install bullet proof glass
  • install hidden panic buttons
  • utilize closed-circuit television cameras to monitor common areas like stairwells, lobbies, reception areas, break or smoking rooms, warehouses, where many outbreaks of violence occur
  • provide a limited access system for employees or badges for all visitors

It is important to recognize that violence is an inherently human characteristic. It needs to be vented. Proactive organizations are supplying their employees with carefully prepared avenues of expression designed to diffuse the emotions that lead to violence.

Some often recommended steps to take are:

  • hire carefully and realistically. It is much better to screen out potential problems than to have to deal with them after they are hired
  • do not offer employment until all screening is completed
  • learn to recognize the dangerous employee profile.
    The violent person is often a white male, usually single in his 30's or 40's. He is a "loner" with poor interpersonal skills who has trouble dealing with authorities or with coworkers. There is usually a history of violence as well as a history of emotional or substance abuse problems. Odds are high that he has a background of military service and that he owns weapons or is fascinated with weapons
  • adopt a Zero Tolerance policy toward unacceptable behavior.
    Management teams should be properly trained to understand threats of violence can no longer be overlooked just because the incident "blew over." This is not zero tolerance and in fact only perpetuates the problem, giving it time to build toward that disastrous crescendo. Arm your employees with a solid definition of what constitutes workplace violence. It should include:
    • any act which is physically assaultive
    • behavior indicating potential for violence, throwing objects, shaking fists, destruction of property, etc.
    • any substantial threat to harm another individual or endanger safety of employees
    • any substantial threat to destroy property
    • aberrant behavior that might signal emotional distress
  • Establish an employee "hotline" for anonymous reporting of suspicious behaviors.
    Direct workers with problems such as alcohol or drug abuse to specific treatment plans. Many companies contract this service to offer maximum confidentiality.
  • Develop a Threat Management Team.
    An important part of limiting both liability and violence is constructing a safe and fair work environment. The Threat Management Team's job is to detail a specific plan of action to be taken every time a threat is reported. Team members should include:
    • Senior Site Manager
    • Human Resource Personnel
    • Legal Counsel,
    • Security Professional
    • Psychologist

    Decide beforehand who the decision maker will be regarding discipline and what criteria will be used to reach that decision.

  • Develop a Trauma Team.
    This is a potential lifesaver that is often overlooked. Assign trained personnel specific "jobs" (first aid, media control, notification and management of families and onlookers, etc.) should a tragedy occur.

There is evidence to support that the workplace is becoming the next "least desirable place to be." The impact that this will have on the health and wealth of the American marketplace remains to be seen. Businesses that are unable or unwilling to come to terms with the costs involved run a huge risk of being swallowed up by them.

A two-pronged approach of prevention and protection can help safely guide business leaders through the turmoil while protecting their company's image, reputation, products and employees.

Design & Content 1996 By Thomas W. Byxbe and Knowledge Technologies, Inc.
Contents 1995 By
Guardian Security Services, Inc.
Last Revision: Friday, December 13, 1996

Back to the Taxi-L Safety Page