A History of Violence

Jared Wade


June 1, 2011

Some two million people are victims of workplace violence each year in the United States, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. Fortunately, most incidents are not life-altering. Some 1.3 million are what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention categorize as minor. But between 2004 and 2008, an average of 564 workplace homicides took place annually-a troubling total as it represents 12% of all work-related deaths that occurred in the United States during that time. Less sensational but also discouraging are the other 700,000 instances of assaults, threats, intimidation, verbal abuse and harassment occurring throughout the business world.

Fortunately, there are ways companies can lower the risk of incidents occurring at their workplaces, according to a recent report by PMA Companies. The first step is to determine the level of risk within the organization. Random acts of violence can occur anywhere, but cultural factors can have a large impact on whether or not a workplace becomes prone to hostility. The report identifies red flags including chronic management issues, frequent unfair labor grievances, high rates of frivolous workplace injury claims, excessive overtime and many employees feeling as though they are not treated with respect.

Additionally, the type of work that employees perform can increase the threat. PMA's report lists the following: contact with the public, delivering goods (or passengers), mobile workplaces (such as taxicabs and police cars), working with unstable individuals, working late and working in high crime areas.

"How well an organization understands their potential risk, develops a plan to respond to events and implements the appropriate measures in a crisis will impact the severity of the loss," said Robert Bowman, PMA's corporate risk control specialist and author of the report.

After conducting a risk assessment that weighs these factors, companies can start taking steps to mitigate the possibility of workplace violence by enhancing their pre-employment interview process (checking references thoroughly, background checks, asking questions that may reveal questionable behavioral traits), creating prevention strategies (crisis plans, harassment policies, official complaint channels, exit interviews, security), provide training programs (for crisis response teams and conflict resolution) and leverage external resources (counseling and employee assistance programs).

Jared Wade is a freelance writer and a former editor of Risk Management.