Addressing Workplace Violence from a Health Management Perspective

By Ginn, Gregory O.; Henry, L. Jean | SAM Advanced Management Journal, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview

Addressing Workplace Violence from a Health Management Perspective


Ginn, Gregory O., Henry, L. Jean, SAM Advanced Management Journal


This article casts workplace violence as a business issue that can affect the bottom line of any organization. Our approach is to classify literature dealing with the problem of workplace violence. We contend that an injury or death due to workplace violence is really no different from any other occupational injury or illness, so that workplace violence prevention programs should be included in wellness and health promotion programs. These programs benefit both the individual and the organization. In fact, many organizations rely so heavily on wellness programs to help achieve their objectives that it is now more appropriate to refer to them as health management programs.

Background

According to the U.S. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH, 1996), workplace violence is a substantial contributor to occupational injury and death. Each week, an average of 20 workers are murdered and 18,000 are assaulted, resulting in millions of lost work-days and costing workers millions of dollars in lost wages.

Workplace violence has received increasing attention over the last three decades. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA, 1998), the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 declared that employers had a general duty to provide safe and healthy working conditions, and OSHA was charged with drafting and recommending occupational safety and health standards (NIOSH, 1996).

In 1989, OSHA (1998) published voluntary, generic safety and health program management guidelines for all employers to use as a foundation for their safety and health programs, which can include those for workplace violence prevention. In 1998, OSHA built on these guidelines by identifying common risk factors for workplace violence and describing some feasible solutions for preventing it.

The new OSHA (1998) guidelines include policy recommendations and practical corrective methods to help prevent and mitigate the effects of workplace violence. The guidelines call for training and educating all staff concerning potential security hazards and protection from those hazards by establishing policies and procedures. The guidelines also call for recordkeeping and evaluation of the violence prevention program to determine overall effectiveness and identify any deficiencies or needed changes.

"Workplace violence" maybe defined narrowly or broadly. A narrow definition includes any bodily injury inflicted by one person on another, and broad definition includes threats and harassment. Some would include in the definition any language or actions that make an employee uncomfortable. Thus, the spectrum of workplace violence ranges from offensive language to homicide. NIOSH defines workplace violence as "violent acts," including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty" (NIOSH, 1996).

Health promotion and wellness cover a variety of activities (Conrad, 1988), typically referring to risk assessment, fitness, health education, and demand management. Organizations have come to rely so heavily on these programs to help them achieve strategic objectives it is more appropriate to refer to them as health management programs (University of Michigan Health Management Research Center, 2001).

Health management is concerned with both the employee's health and its effect on productivity management. Worker productivity can be used as a measure of the success of health promotion, thus transforming wellness from a health issue to a business issue (Prince, 1999).

The Health Promotion Issue

The NIOSH and OSHA approach to workplace violence illustrates a public health approach to a workplace health issue. The OSHA approach is typical in that it emphasizes keeping records of workplace violence incidents, the causes, and any corrective actions.

Unfortunately, many organizations may not take the need for programs to prevent workplace violence seriously. …

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