Preventing Violence in the Workplace

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Violence in the workplace is a growing trend among American businesses that needs the prompt attention of individuals, governments, and corporations alike. In fact it is so serious that “violence in the workplace in recent years has grown to be the second leading cause of death in the workplace” (Baron, Hoffman, & Merrill, 2000). Responding to this epidemic will take a tailored dynamic approach that must be embraced by employees and management alike. First, we must understand exactly what constitutes workplace violence and understand some common triggers from past cases. Second, employees and managers must know and understand what signs they must be aware of that could escalate into workplace violence through effective and recurring training. Lastly, everyone should be thoroughly trained to respond to an act of violence and what to do after the violent act has occurred. The reason that this occurrence has become the second leading cause of death is because of ignorance of violent situations and individuals not taking appropriate actions to deal with violent employees. Before appropriate action against violent employees can be taken, employees and supervisors must be able to identify workplace violence.

The FBI has defined workplace violence as “murder or other violent acts by a disturbed, aggrieved employee or ex-employee against coworkers or supervisors” (Isaacs, 2002). This is a pretty narrow description of the types of incidents that can actually fall under workplace violence. Some of the lesser and often unreported incidents include: lesser cases of assaults, domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment (to include sexual harassment), and physical and/or emotional abuse. Being able to clearly identify what constitutes violence in the workplace is an ability that primarily supervisors should be able to accomplish. However, this does not release other employees of the responsibility of identifying and reporting violent incidents. There are four distinct categories of workplace violence:

1. Violent acts by criminals who have no other connection with the workplace, but enter to commit robbery or another crime 2. Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, patients, students, inmates, or any others for whom an organization provides services 3. Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee 4. Violence committed in the workplace by someone who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee—an abusive spouse or domestic partner

The first category of violence is responsible for almost all “nearly 80 percent” (Isaacs, 2002) of workplace homicides. During these types of violence the motive is usually theft, and the criminal during most of these incidents is carrying a gun or other weapon which would increase the likelihood that the victim will be killed or seriously wounded. This type of violence falls heavily on specific service industries whose jobs make them vulnerable i.e. taxi drivers, late-night retail or gas station clerks, and others who are on duty at night, primarily those people who work in isolated locations or dangerous neighborhoods, and who carry or have access to cash. However, most jobs today do not involve these types of scenarios. To get a better understanding of some of the factors that lead up to a case of workplace violence, one must have a grasp of highly publicized incidents that have occurred in the past.

By far, the most popular case of workplace violence that many can remember is the incident the coined the term “going postal.” The Oklahoma Historical Society described the events as such, “USPS letter carrier Patrick H. Sherrill, a “disgruntled postal worker” fit the profile of a potential mass killer. A loner and socially inept, he was unable to hold a job for long and blamed management for his problems. His fascination with guns was fed by service in the U.S. Marines and active participation in the Oklahoma Air...
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