Toxic Shock: Understanding Violence against Young Males in the Workplace

By Kenway, Jane; Fitzclarence, Lindsay et al. | The Journal of Men's Studies, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

Toxic Shock: Understanding Violence against Young Males in the Workplace


Kenway, Jane, Fitzclarence, Lindsay, Hasluck, Lindsay, The Journal of Men's Studies


This paper is a preliminary attempt to document and understand certain forms of workplace violence, an issue that has generated a great deal of public attention in many industrialized nations. Indicators of such attention include media reports, Internet postings, and increasing levels of government policies focusing on ways to combat workplace violence. The following Internet posting captures the spirit of the public's awareness of workplace violence.

   The statistics are startling: Each year almost one million people are
   injured in the United States as the result of violence taking place in the
   workplace. Sixteen percent of all violent crime in this country occurs in
   the workplace. Workplace violence is the leading cause of fatalities in the
   workplace for women and the second leading cause of death for men in the
   workplace. On average, 20 employees are the victims of homicide in the
   workplace each week. More than half of all workers fatally injured on the
   job in the New York Metropolitan area die as the result of a violent act,
   the highest rate in the country and double the national rate.

   The United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health
   Administration (OSHA) is seeking to hold employers responsible for
   workplace violence under some circumstances. In furtherance of this
   objective, it has promulgated Guidelines for Preventing Workplace Violence
   for Health Care and Social Service Workers and has circulated for
   discussion and comment a draft of Guidelines for Workplace Violence
   Prevention Programs for Night Retail Establishments. (Avoiding Workplace
   Violence, http://www.frankgrin.com/violence.html)

The workplace violence discussed here is, for the most part, male-on-male violence. More specifically, we are concerned with the physical violence and abuse that senior workers and bosses inflict on junior workers (e.g., apprentices) in manufacturing settings (e.g., factories). We believe that documenting and understanding such workplace violence is a necessary first step to preventing it through educational and other programs. While the harassment of and violence against women in the workplace have attracted considerable attention, this is not wholly true of harassment of and violence against men, by men and some women. Indeed, the extent and nature of such violence has only recently begun to emerge in Australia.

As specific details of the extent of workplace harassment have become apparent, various industrial organizations within several Australian "states" have moved to introduce counter measures. For example, the New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations has designed a program to change the culture of violent workplaces (Catanzarti, 1998). In Victoria, the Workcover Authority has introduced a number of policies and practices designed to deal with workplace harassment. A contact hotline has been introduced as well as a series of policies aimed at facilitating changes to work practices thought to be linked to workplace harassment and bullying (Pogorelske, 1998).

At the same time, the general public is being encouraged to report inappropriate workplace behaviors. Large sized, colored posters have been distributed to shopkeepers and supermarkets to advertise the bullying/harassment problem and to alert the public to measures they can take to reduce, if not eliminate, the problem. These are all tangible signs that attitudes are changing toward entrenched workplace practices. As such, part of the change can be attributed to the "educative" processes designed to promote new attitudes within the workplace and the public sector as well.

We argue here that the problem of workplace violence is neither new nor limited to a few work settings; violence is a learned social behavior that is refined over extended periods of time, including, for instance, time spent in schools and in sporting organizations. …

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