Dept. of Labor Data Shows 1 in 5 Workplace Deaths Due to Violence
So you think working at your company is physically risk-free because employees dont walk scaffolding high above Manhattan or ride trams deep into West Virginia coalmines? Think again.
The latest statistics for 2011 from the U.S. Department of Labor show that nearly one in five workplace fatalities is attributed not to accidents but to intentional violence.
This preliminary data confirmed what were seeing related to occupational violence, said Meagan Newman, an associate in Seyfarth Shaws workplace safety group, in Chicago. It turns the notion of what causes death in the workplace on its head.
One need look no further than the daily news to confirm that. On November 6, a co-worker shot three other people at a Fresno, California chicken-processing plant, killing two of them before killing himself.
And last week ABC/Yahoo! News posted a video segment entitled Workplace Stress: Is Economy Making Us Crazy? which featured clips of employee cubicle rage on YouTube.
Newman said some 780 violent workplace fatalities occurred in 2011, only a slight decrease from 2010.
She noted that unlike construction, roofing, or mining accidents, violence can touch every workplace and affect every employer.
Looking at those numbers reminds employers that when it comes to health and safety of employees, its not just about traditionally hazardous occupations. Everyone needs to look at their workplace and what they can do, she added.
The employer has a general duty to provide a safe working environment, Newman said. If there is workplace violence, the Labor Department can issue a citation for violating its rules.
The government describes workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site . . . [ranging] from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.
Yes, homicide: the DOL statistics put homicide as the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.
The numbers also showed:
- Violent fatalities increased 18 percent in the last year in the 20-24 age range.
- Women were twice as likely as men to be the victim of homicide in the workplace.
- Thirty-nine percent of the time, a womans killer was a relative or domestic partner.
- Men are more likely to be slain in the workplace by a robber.
- Nearly one-third of violent workplace fatalities occur in management- or sales-related positions.
- You can stop eyeing your colleagues with warinessdespite stories like the Fresno shooting, the least common assailant is a co-worker.
Newman speculated that the increase among 20 to 24 year-olds could be the result of more young people taking jobs in, say, late-night retail stores more prone to robbery. She wont know for certain until the Labor Department sends out its final numbers with occupations included.
(One note from Newman: The number of incidents at a workplace can include attacks in the parking lot if the lot is owned or controlled by the company.)
In her work, Newman assists clients in identifying workplace safety and health compliance issues with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration as well as the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA suggests that one of the best protections employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. It is critical, the agency adds, to ensure that all claims of workplace violence are investigated and quickly remedied.
There is a violence-prevention policy for every employer, Newman said, but one size doesnt always fit all. She suggested looking at the companys history and what sorts of conflicts have arisen in the past.
Most employers have policies to address weapons or assaults in workplace, but may fall down on how to address domestic violence that spills over into work, she noted.
She suggested that employers need to put policies in place that make employees feel comfortable communicating about such issuesfor the sake and safety of that employee as well as those around her.
The primary concern is the health and safety of employees, but an employer needs to also think in a risk-management way, she said.
Its also worth noting the role of the calendar: with the winter holiday season approaching, this can be a particularly vulnerable time for people.
We do see in our practice during the holidays upticks of workplace violence issues, often the carryover of a domestic conflict, Newman warned. Employers need to be prepared for the added stress that accompanies the season in an already stressed-out workplace.