Workplace Violence Prevention: Readiness and Response

Article excerpt

Workplace violence, a complex and widespread issue, has received increased attention from the public, mental health experts, and law enforcement professionals. (1) The wide range of acts that fall under this rubric include all violent behavior and threats of violence, as well as any conduct that can result in injury, damage property, induce a sense of fear, and otherwise impede the normal course of work. (2) Threats, harassment, intimidation, bullying, stalking, intimate partner violence, physical or sexual assaults, and homicides fall within this category. (3)

Although a handful of high-profile incidents (e.g., mass shootings at a workplace) have led to increased public awareness, prevalence rates show that nonfatal workplace violence is a more common phenomenon than previously believed. For example, a Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report estimated that approximately 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence occurred each year between 1993 and 1999, with simple and aggravated assaults comprising the largest portion. (4) The same report revealed that 6 percent of workplace violence involved rape, sexual assault, or homicide. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report, 518 homicides occurred in the workplace in the United States in 2008. (5) Most recently, data revealed that 16 percent of workplace fatalities resulted from assaultive and violent acts. (6) However, this being said, most workplace homicides take place during robberies or related crimes. Finally, considering actual reported workplace violence, it is estimated that these events cost the American workforce approximately $36 billion dollars per year. (7)

Recently, two of the authors, Rugala and Romano, conceptualized a workplace violence spectrum (adapted from the American Society for Industrial Security International) as a means of understanding and categorizing crimes that occur within the workplace. (8) As illustrated in figure 1. the right end of the spectrum consists of such acts as overt violence causing physical harm, nonfatal assaults with or without weapons, and lethal violence. Moving toward the left end of the spectrum, behaviors become less physical and more emotional/ psychological. These include disruptive, aggressive, hostile, or emotionally abusive conduct that interrupts the flow of the workplace and causes employees concern for their personal safety. Bullying, stalking, and threatening appear on this end of the spectrum. At the far left end are behaviors of concern. According to Rugala and Romano as well as others, individuals do not "snap" and suddenly become violent without an antecedent or perceived provocation. (9) Instead, the path to violence is an evolutionary one often consisting of such behaviors of concern as brooding and odd writings or drawings. These can be subtle indicators of the potential for violence and may be unusual or typical for an individual.


Several typologies of workplace violence behaviors and events also have emerged over the past few years. (10) Rugala divides workplace violence into four types, or categories, of acts based on the relationship among victims, perpetrators, and work settings (sec figure 2). (11) Type 1 incidents involve offenders who have no relationship with either the victims or the establishments. Type II events are those where the offenders currently receive services from the facilities (retail-, health-, or service-industry settings) when they commit an act of violence against them. Type III episodes involve those current or former employees acting out toward their present or past places of employment. In Type IV situations, domestic disputes between an employee and the perpetrator spill over into the workplace.

Type of Act             Description of Act

Type I       Offender has no relationship with the victim or
             workplace establishment. In these incidents, the
             motive most often is robbery or another
             type of crime. …