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W o r k p l a c e   V i o l e n c e
Awareness and Prevention

-- Courtesy of The Freeman Institute --


The purpose of this document is to assist employers and employees to reduce the risk from workplace violence. It is intended to serve as a resource document from which employers and employees can get information and guidance, and can identify additional contacts and reference sources to implement a Workplace Violence Awareness and Prevention Program. 


Workplace murder is the leading killer of working females, (35% of their fatal work injuries) and the second leading killer of males. The problem is especially acute in service sector industries (e.g. retail establishments, taxi and limousine, police and security services).  According to the figures released on August 3, 1995, by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)(1), 1,071 workers were murdered in the workplace in 1994, a slight decrease from 1,074 the previous year. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)(2), the following factors may increase workers' risk of homicide: 
FOOTNOTE(1) Toscano, Guy. National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1994. Washington D.C.: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, August 1995

FOOTNOTE(2) Preventing Homicide in the Workplace. Cincinnati, OH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sept. 1993.


* Exchange of money with the public 

* Working alone or in small numbers

* Working late at night or early in the morning hours 

* Working in high crime areas 

* Guarding valuable property or possessions 

* Working in community settings



While workplace murders have grabbed media attention, they are only part of the problem. For each murder, there are countless other incidents of workplace violence in which the victim is harassed, threatened or injured, sometimes seriously. A major obstacle in quantifying the real extent of the problem is the issue of chronic under-reporting. However, some information is available from the U. S. Department of Justice. 

The U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) National Crime Victimization Survey(3) statistics, published in July 1994, found that almost one million workers were victims of violence while working. The survey excludes homicides since it was based on interviews with victims.  According to the survey, one in six violent crimes in the United States - an estimated 8% of rapes, 7% of robberies and 16% of assaults - occurs at work. An indicator of the seriousness of the workplace violence problem was the finding in the study that 30% of the victims were confronted with armed offenders, one-third of whom carried handguns. The study noted that 16% of violent workplace incidents resulted in physical injuries and 10% required medical care. 
FOOTNOTE(3) Bachman, Ronet. National Crime Victimization Survey: Violence and Theft in the Workplace. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, July 1994.

Nonfatal assaults were primarily encounters between patients and nursing staff in health care institutions. Other occupations where violence at work produced lost work time included private security guards, truck drivers, and sales workers. 

Almost two-thirds of nonfatal assaults occurred in service industries, such as nursing homes, hospitals, and establishments providing residential care and other social services (halfway homes, for example).  Retail trade industries such as grocery stores and eating and drinking places accounted for about one-fifth of these assaults. 

Both men and women who work in government have greater numbers and higher rates of assault than the private sector employees. The annual rate of nonfatal assault against women working in state government is 8.6 times higher than women in the private sector; women working in local government are 5.5 times more likely to be assaulted than private sector women. 

More than half of all workers fatally injured on the job in the New York, Northern New Jersey, Long Island, Metropolitan area in 1993 died as a result of an assault or violent act. Additionally, according to data from the 1993 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, only Los Angeles, with 48 percent of workplace deaths attributable to violence, came close to the 51 percent rate for this area. Nationally, 21 percent of occupational or workplace deaths resulted from violence. Of the 364 fatal occupational injuries in the New York Area, 186 resulted from assaults and
violent acts. 

The 1993 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, part of the redesigned BLS safety and health statistics program, provides the most complete count of fatal work injuries available because it uses multiple state and federal data sources. The data for the New York -Northern New Jersey-Long Island area presented in this report are a product of
cooperative programs conducted with the participation of the New Jersey Department of Health, the New York State Department of Health, the New York City Department of Health, the Connecticut Department of Labor and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Data for the other metropolitan areas were gathered from similar programs in health and labor departments in the states involved. 

The New York, Northern New Jersey, Long Island, NY - NJ - CT - PA Consolidated Metropolitan Statistical Area is comprised of 14 counties in New Jersey, 12 Counties in New York, four counties in Connecticut and one county in Pennsylvania.(4)
FOOTNOTE(4) Middle Atlantic Regional Office - Bureau of Labor Statistics data released 2/9/95.

In addition to the human cost, businesses suffer economic losses when they are the victims of workplace violence. According to the U. S. Department of Justice survey(5), assaults at work cost 500,000 employees 1,751,100 lost days of work each year, which averages out to 3.5 days per crime. In terms of just lost wages, the estimated annual total was more than $55 million. When lost productivity, legal expenses, property damage, diminished public image, increased security and other factors are included, total losses from workplace violence probably can be measured in
the billions of dollars.
FOOTNOTE(5) Bachman, Ronet. National Crime Victimization Survey: Violence and Theft in the Workplace. Washington, D.C.: Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice, July 1994.

Another cost borne by employers is liability for the injuries suffered by victims of workplace violence and/or liability claims in negligent or wrongful deaths occurring on the job. Third parties assaulted and/or seriously injured in the workplace have won significant awards in suits against businesses or others with responsibility in the
workplace who were found to be negligent in this area. And while workers' compensation insurance is generally the employee's only remedy for on-the-job injuries from assaults, in certain states, employees have successfully sued their employers in civil court.


According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH): WORKPLACE VIOLENCE is any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting. It includes but is not limited to beatings, stabbing, suicides, shootings, rapes, near suicides, psychological traumas such as threats, obscene phone calls, an intimidating presence, and harassment of any nature such as being followed, sworn at or shouted at.(6) 
FOOTNOTE(6) For statistical purposes, the law enforcement community defines Workplace Violence as the commission of proscribed criminal acts  or coercive behavior which occurs in the work setting. It includes but is not limited to homicides, forcible sex offenses, kidnapping, assault, robbery, menacing, reckless endangerment, harassment and disorderly conduct. The term coercive behavior is intended to convey the sense that workplace violence may take many forms in addition to the use of force. The aggressor may use berating language, physical or verbal threats or damage personal property.

Workplace may be any location, either permanent or temporary, where an employee performs any work-related duty. This includes, but is not limited to, the buildings and the surrounding perimeters, including the parking lots, field locations, clients' homes, and traveling to and from work assignments. 

Workplace violence (WPV) incidents can be divided into categories depending on the relationship between the assailant and the worker or workplace. These categories are: 

1. Violence by Strangers: In this type of incident the violence is committed by a stranger. This stranger has no legitimate relationship to the worker or workplace and enters the workplace, usually on the pretense of being a customer, to commit a robbery or other violent act. Workers also may be victimized by strangers outside the "traditional" workplace but while acting within the course and scope of their employment. 

2. Violence by Customers/Clients: In these incidents, the violence is committed by someone who receives a service provided by a business, such as a current or former customer, client or patient, a passenger, a criminal suspect or a prisoner. The violence can be committed in the workplace or, as with service providers, outside the workplace but while the worker is performing a job related function. 

Violence of this kind is divided into two types. One type involves people who may be inherently violent such as prison inmates, mental health service recipients, or other client populations. 

The other type involves people who are not known to be inherently violent, but are situationally violent. Something in the situation induces an otherwise non-violent client or customer to become violent.  Typically, provoking situations are those which are frustrating to the client or customer, such as denial of needed or desired services or delays in receiving such services. 

3. Violence by Co-Workers: In co-worker incidents, the perpetrator has an employment relationship with the workplace. The perpetrator can be a current or former employee, a prospective employee, a current or former
supervisor or a manager. Co-worker violence that occurs outside the workplace, but which resulted or arose from the employment relationship would be included in this category. This type of violence can again be divided into two types. Violence between supervisors and subordinates, and violence between workers at the same levels. 

4. Violence by Personal Relations: In personal relations incidents, the violence is committed by someone who has a personal relationship with the worker, such as a current or former spouse or partner, a relative or a friend. Included in this category is the perpetrator who has a personal dispute with the worker and enters the workplace to harass, threaten, injure or kill. 


Employers have both a legal duty and a moral obligation to provide a safe workplace. To prevent loss of life and injuries and to limit financial losses and potential liability, employers should institute policies and procedures to prevent violence from occurring in their workplaces. These policies may include means to identify the potential
for violence, procedures to prevent the occurrence of violence and, in the event prevention fails and an incident of violence occurs, plans to respond and mitigate further damage. 

Employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that "is free from recognizable
hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees". This duty includes inspecting the workplace to discover and correct a dangerous condition or hazard in the workplace and to give adequate warning of its existence. 

An employer has a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace. An employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, or intimidation or other potential indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists or has the potential to exist, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and may be required to implement a workplace violence prevention program. 

Back To The Main Violence Prevention and Awareness Table of Contents

Go To Part II

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