How do you prevent workplace violence?

FRAMINGHAM (02/27/2004) - In a new development in one of the most stomach-turning of recent crimes--last summer's case of the "collar bomb" placed apparently involuntarily around the neck of a pizza delivery man in Erie, Penn.--the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has released parts of a letter discovered with the blown-up pizza man. And a statement that the motivation may have been revenge, not money. (The pizza guy was allegedly forced to rob a bank under threat of his collar detonating.) But revenge against whom? The pizza guy? The bank? The FBI isn't saying yet.

Nor is it entirely certain that the pizza deliverer was on the job when he was taken hostage; but that is one theory. This ghastly case is one that would be hard to plan a corporate security and employee safety policy around, but for certain occupations, such as delivery, site inspection or anything involving solo travel to unfamiliar places, violence from outsiders is a real risk. According to a study by Critical Incident Associates, 12.5 percent of workplace violence incidents are client-type relationships that have gone bad. Still, many more workplace violence scenarios take place between employees. The same study showed that 43.6 percent of incidents were caused by current employees who resorted to violence. (Former employees who were fired or left under pressure were responsible for 22.5 percent of incidents, and the remaining 21.4 percent came from domestic violence situations spilling over into the workplace.)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 2 million people become victims of violent crime at work, costing U.S. companies more than US$36 billion annually. With an average of 20 workers murdered and 18,000 workers assaulted each week, The Centers for Disease Control have classified workplace violence as a national epidemic.

Again, hearing those statistics, what comes to mind are the most horrific incidents of deranged employees opening fire on their colleagues. However, as Daintry Duffy reports in "Putting an End to Workplace Violence" in the Feb. issue of CSO, the FBI defines workplace violence to be any action that could threaten the safety of an employee, impact an employee's physical or psychological well-being, or cause damage to company property.

Even using that broad description, understanding where workplace violence begins and ends is a dicey thing. According to an American Association of Occupational Health Nurses Inc. (AAOHN) study, there are considerable differences between men's and women's views of violence. For example, the study found that 73 percent of men viewed stalking as a form of workplace violence; 94 percent of women said stalking constituted violence. Likewise, 76 percent of men versus 90 percent of women agreed that threats and intimation were a part of workplace violence, and 83 percent of men compared to 97 percent of women called sexual harassment a form of workplace violence.

"Putting an End to Workplace Violence" offers tips for creating a safer work environment. This is mostly based on developing a policy and/or a response team, and educating and training people. Yet one reader has written and pointed out the potential for abuse in a policy where reputations can be damaged by unfounded allegations or personal vendetta. She suggests the real secret is in having a merit-based system with managers who operate by the Golden Rule.

A Security Check poll on CSOonline.com earlier this month showed that 30 percent of respondents said their company had an active workplace violence policy or response team--but 30 percent said that the issue was not addressed. The rest fell somewhere in between, having either a policy that was merely lip service, or no policy but other measures in place.

What steps can you or do you take, as a security professional, to prevent workplace violence, whether or not your organization has a policy? Have you ever defused a potentially violent situation? Share your stories and opinions. (Anonymity allowed.)

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