Violence impacts U.S. workforce, but policy is unchanged

5% reported incidents; 70% have no policy

While many U.S. businesses that were the scene of at least one incident of workplace violence in 2005 say the incidents had a negative impact on their workforce, few changed their workplace violence prevention programs in the aftermath of the episodes and some 70% of all workplaces have no policy addressing violence.

The U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), recently released 2005 workplace violence figures that indicate nearly 5% of the private industry businesses in America had at least one incident of violence during the 12-month reporting period. Half of employers with 1,000 or more employees reported workplace violence during that period.

One third of the businesses said their employees were negatively affected by the violence, yet even after the incidents most did not change their policies, and almost 9% of businesses that reported incidents of violence had no program or policy in place to address workplace violence.

Incidence of violence, policies varies

BLS conducted the survey for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) by surveying employers about their policies and training on workplace violence prevention. Prior to the 2005 survey, little information existed regarding policies and training from the employer's perspective, NIOSH stated in releasing the findings.

While 5% of all establishments, including state and local governments, reported a violent incident, half of the largest establishments (employing 1,000 or more workers) reported an incident. Among the larger employers, goods-producing industries reported higher percentages of coworker-on-coworker violence, while service industries, with their greater exposure to the public, reported higher percentages of criminal, customer, and domestic violence.

The survey defined workplace violence as violent acts directed towards a person at work or on duty (i.e. physical assaults, threats of assault, harassment, intimidation, or bullying). Workplace violence is classified in four types of situations:

  • Criminal — when the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence (e.g. robbery, shoplifting, or trespassing);
  • Customer or client — when the perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business (e.g. customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any other group to which the business provides services);
  • Co-worker — when the perpetrator is an employee, past employee of the business, or contractor who works as a temporary employee of the business and who attacks or threatens another employee; and
  • Domestic violence — when the perpetrator, who has no legitimate relationship to the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim, threatens or assaults the intended victim at the workplace.

Of all the establishments reporting an incident of workplace violence in the 12 months preceding the survey, 21% reported that the incident affected the fear level of their employees and 21% indicated that the incident affected their employees' morale.

Despite evidence that workplace violence negatively impacts the entire workforce, more than70% of workplaces in the United States have no formal program or policy that addresses workplace violence. Programs or policies related to workplace violence were more prevalent among larger private establishments and governments. State government establishments were by far more likely to have written or verbal policies or programs than local government and private industry establishments, the NIOSH/BLS survey showed.

(To read the complete BLS/NIOSH survey results, go to www.bls.gov/iif/osh_wpvs.htm.)