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Safe work: Who's most likely to cause workplace violence?

July 5, 2021
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Workplace violence wreaks havoc on businesses. It can cause property damage and financial loss, emotional trauma and stress, and even injuries and death.

Approximately two million Americans are victims of workplace violence each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, workplace violence resulted in nearly 21,000 injuries in 2018 and 450 deaths.

This cycle of violence also costs businesses approximately $121 billion a year in legal expenses, property damage, and lost productivity.

However, more than four in 10 executives don't think workplace violence is an issue. Additionally, 67% don't believe it negatively impacts their bottom line.

How can you stop the cycle of violence and create a safe work environment? Start by understanding the most common perpetrators and their motivations.

1. Strangers committing workplace violence

Strangers with criminal intent account for just one in four workplace violence incidents. However, they account for nearly six in 10 workplace homicides.

The primary motive of most of these perpetrators is robbery. But others — like mass shooters — are more likely to want to inflict large-scale violence. These perpetrators often choose their targeted location based on the number of people they expect to find there.

Prevention strategies for this type of workplace violence include:

  • Environmental interventions, such as cash control, sufficient lighting, entry and exit control, and surveillance
  • Behavioral interventions, such as safety and security training for employees

2. Customers or clients causing an injury at work

Customers or clients are responsible for the most workplace violence incidents — about 40%.

This group spans a wide range of people — current and former clients, patients, customers, passengers, criminal suspects, and inmates and prisoners.

Their motives for violence also vary the most. Some individuals are unhappy with a product or service, and either make a threat or commit an act of violence.

Patients, particularly those with substance abuse or mental health issues, can become particularly volatile. They might react to a situation in a threatening or violent way.

In 2018, more than 14,000 of the 20,000 workers injured by violence worked in the healthcare and social assistance industry.

Prevention strategies for this type of workplace violence include maintaining adequate staffing and training employees on:

  • Communication skills
  • De-escalation techniques
  • Proper restraint and take-down techniques (especially for healthcare workers and law enforcement personnel)

3. Coworkers involved in a cycle of workplace violence

Current and former employees account for 26% and 3% of workplace violence perpetrators, respectively.

These individuals are likely to experience on-the-job conflict with another worker that escalates. 

Perhaps they receive a poor performance review or a job change that negatively changes their outlook.

Prevention strategies for this type of workplace violence include:

  • Thorough hiring processes, such as checking references and conducting criminal background screenings
  • Training for new and existing employees
  • Creation of and adherence to policies surrounding terminated and former employees, such as immediately deactivating security badges and keycards

4. Domestic violence offenders at the workplace

The least recognized perpetrators of workplace violence are the spouses and partners (or the exes) of your employees.

Six percent of workplace violence incidents stem from a problem with a personal relationship or domestic violence. In these cases, colleagues typically find themselves in a “wrong place at the wrong time" scenario.

Prevention strategies for this type of workplace violence include:

  • Environmental interventions, such as entry and exit control and surveillance
  • Training in identifying and reporting potential domestic violence (also called intimate partner violence)
  • Creating a culture of support for employees who may find themselves trapped in a cycle of violence

Promoting a safe work environment

Looking for more information on how to prevent workplace violence and create a safe work environment? Contact Safety on Call online to speak with a safety consultant.

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