In the current economic downturn, experts are voicing concern that we may experience an above normal incidents of workplace violence. Stress created by the loss of a job and uncertainty about the future can push a person over the edge into taking violent action.
An estimated 2 million American workers are subjected to work related violence each year. The Bureau of Justice & Statistics reports that the average number of incidences from 1993 to 1999 was 1.7 million per year. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (Bureau of Labor Statistics):
Recent tragic incidences such as the bus mechanic in San Diego who killed two co-workers (March 24, 20009) and the unemployed man in upstate New York who shot and killed 12 people (April 4, 2009) provide substance to the concern about rising violence. It is somewhat of an irony that the sensation caused by the news coverage of these stories may in itself trigger additional "copycat" violence.
It will be months, if not years, before we will know whether there was an actual increase in the number of violent incidents. The numbers will tell their story after the fact. There is valid reason for concern today, and businesses are being encouraged to take action now.
NIOSH encourages all businesses to provide workplace violence training to their employees. While OSHA does not have specific requirements or standards for workplace violence, the General Duty Clause of the OSH (Occupational Safety & Health) Act requires employers to provide a place of employment "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees."
The law imposes additional legal obligations on businesses. Civil rights laws require employers to protect employees from harassment and threats to well-being including violence. Workers compensation laws make employers responsible for job-related injuries. Companies can also be subject to civil liability lawsuits following a violent incident on a number of grounds such as negligence in hiring, failure to provide supervision, training, or other safety measures.
In light of the potential cost to a business due to an incident of workplace violence, a prevention program can be a sound investment. Therefore, if your company does not have a workplace violence prevention program, you should strongly consider putting one in place. Booklets, posters, video programs, and interactive training programs are readily available at reasonable prices. It's a good place to start.
Of the many components of a workplace violence prevention program, NIOSH has identified violence awareness training as one of the most critical. Although the specific needs will vary from business to business, for the majority of businesses such a program need not be complex or costly.