Workplace Violence: Awareness, Prevention, and Response

By Bruce, Mary D.; Nowlin, William A. | Public Personnel Management, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Workplace Violence: Awareness, Prevention, and Response


Bruce, Mary D., Nowlin, William A., Public Personnel Management


Twelve places of employment; Electric Picture Company in Nashville, TN, City Core Supply in Chicago, IL, Andover Industries in Andover, OH, MBNA America in Wilmington, DE, Golf Leaf Nursery in Boynton Beach, FL, Marriott Hotel in Huntsville, AL, City Hall in New York City, Century 21 Real Estate Office in San Antonio, TX, Verizon Wireless in San Angelo, TX, Lockheed Martin Plant in Meridian, MI, Modine Manufacturing in Jefferson City, MO, and Albertsons Grocery Store in Irvine, CA; shared a common phenomenon during a two month period in 2003. At each workplace, an employee or customer/client was either killed or wounded by a co-worker, former co-worker, customer or client of the organization. These incidents of workplace violence occurred in small businesses and large organizations, a variety of industries, in small towns and large cities, in the public sector and the private sector. Examples of the incidents are as follows:

* an employee opened fire at Labor Ready Inc, a temporary employment service in Huntsville, Alabama, killing four fellow job-seekers and wounding a fifth,

* an employee of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Meridian, Mississippi, left a company ethics seminar, retrieved a rifle and shotgun and returned to work, killing six coworkers and wounding eight others before committing suicide,

* an employee of Windy City Core Supply warehouse in Chicago, IL where he was fired six months before, killed six former co-workers, and

* an employee of a manufacturing plant in Jefferson City, Missouri, shot eight people, three fatally, before killing himself in front of the city's police headquarters. (1)

Each of these incidents reflects the interpersonal aspect of the violent act. In most cases, the violence results from a dispute between people that can build to a level that expands beyond the original problem. Additional incidents illustrate the nature, as well as the continuation of the phenomena. (2) For example, 21-year old Elijah Brown walked onto the job at ConAgra Food, Inc., a meat-processing plant, killed five coworkers, wounded two others, and then killed himself. Colleagues say Brown had been teased and harassed on a continuous basis. During his employment, he fought with his co-workers over a pallet jack and was subsequently disciplined for his behavior. This disciplinary action may have contributed to his anger that resulted in his violent actions. (3)

The U.S. Postal Commission reported that 5% of American workers were physically assaulted in 1999. (4) The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that homicide was a serious form of workplace violence and the second leading cause of death in American workplaces. (5) Less severe forms of workplace violence, such as pushing and shoving, occurred at a greater frequency, with approximately 18,000 individuals assaulted at work each week in this country. (6) These statistics provided support that workplace violence should be a real concern of all organizations, especially those with a large number of employees or deal with the public on a regular basis. While both employees and customers/clients have a need and a right to feel safe in these environments, the existence of an organizational policy on workplace violence has not found to reduce or eliminate these negative situations.

A study on workplace violence is important to determine if having policies on workplace violence that relate to: (a) concerns of organizations, (b) use of pre-employment selection tools, (c) "zero tolerance" nature of workplace violence policies, (d) pre-incident practices, (e) provision of training, and (f) post incident behaviors of respondent organizations are proactive strategies that can reduce incidents of workplace violence. Understanding the importance of policies on workplace violence can help employers become proactive in minimizing these actions, instead of reactive after the incident has occurred.

Review of Literature

Workplace violence includes threatening behaviors, verbal abuse and physical assault. …

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