Editor's Note: This is Part I of a two-part treatment on the contemporary state of workplace violence in America. Read Part Two here.
All-too-recent national tragedies clearly illustrate the painful presence and, sadly, the distressing prevalence of violence in our schools and workplaces. As a tightly focused trade magazine that is more apt to debate caulking guns over cocking guns, one might dismiss the relevance of this publication's modest voice when measured against an enormous topical issue like violence in the workplace — but they would be wrong. Since the earliest days, Surface Fabrication magazine has stressed that a small voice is not, by any means, a weak voice.
While it's clear this isn't the time or place to address any of the constitutional issues (e.g., privacy, gun ownership, etc.) we are finding in our headlines, there is still some degree of essential insight and practical advice about workplace violence that we can share. The incentive for even trying to make that difference is crystal clear to every member of the Surface Fabrication team; if just one piece of this counsel inspires just one firm to adopt it, there is the very real possibility that some future harm could be averted — making this simple review of workplace violence very relevant and very valuable indeed.
Back in 2004, a column titled "Doing Well By Doing Good" was published in these pages. The article made the simple argument that stocking your business with the very best in human virtue (i.e., ethical management, honest dealings with each and every stakeholder, genuine integrity, charitable behavior, protecting those in your "work family," etc.) was not only doing the planet and its inhabitants a great favor but also creating an actual statistical tendency toward greater customer retention, more robust increases in sales and significantly higher profit margins. Upholding that philosophy — by putting our own money where our mouths are — means a great deal. To that end, we are devoting these pages to the first half of our two-part treatment on the contemporary state of workplace violence in America. As you review this half's findings, keep your eyes out for a very special offering jointly developed and sponsored by SF and Whip-Smart Consulting to bring some very real and nearly instant protection to your workers, the public and yourselves.
What Exactly Is Workplace Violence?
To offer your work family the greatest level of protection, it is imperative that you expand your existing definition of "violence." OSHA classifies it as "physical assault, threatening behavior, verbal abuse, hostility or harassment." Additionally, you'll need to think of the "workplace" as a fluctuating state of being more than a fixed geographic location where your employees gather each morning. By broadening your concept of workplace violence, you'll be better able to limit its outbreak and work to contain it. OSHA studies indicate that less than 30 percent of American workplaces have implemented formal policies or procedures to address work-related violence and only 20 percent of private industry employers provide preventive training. These same researchers have attributed this "gap" to a pervasive lack of awareness of the scope and importance of the problem and a denial of the potential for workplace violence "until a tragic, violent event occurs." How true.
Having established that today's workplace is often not a "place" at all and that violence has many points of origin and shades of intensity, can we still spot it? Let's try one more viewing angle to sharpen our collective perception: Begin with what workplace violence is not. It is not just worker on worker violence and it doesn't just happen at your facility. Begin to consider the various criminal acts that might occur against your employees. This could include an assault or a burglary (from an inside or outside source) that happens to one of your workers while on your premises or while performing a work function at another location (i.e., making deliveries, working on a residential jobsite, walking through the bank's parking lot with the day's deposit). Workplace violence can also stem from a personal relationship between the attacker and the victim — something that spills over from personal life to the workplace and suddenly your employee is getting harassed in the office or shop. It is also vital that you include the safety and security of your customers, the public at large and even visiting vendors when trying to map out ways to reduce the risk of violence.
Our Environment Today
It is easy to fall into the trap of sensationalism when writing about something as emotionally charged and visceral as social violence. It wouldn't be long before you became convinced that within each person beats the vicious heart of a cold-blooded criminal mastermind. Avoiding that lure, as well as any questionable "research" performed by organizations with ulterior sales motives, let's take an honest look at the current landscape. Assuming the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) has little to gain by fudging the numbers, let's go with their findings from the very latest comprehensive study of violence in the workplace.
• Workplace violence accounted for 18 percent of all violent crime during the study period.
• Violence against employees was most prevalent in law enforcement occupations followed by cab drivers, bartenders, mental health professionals and teachers.
• The victimization rate for employees of private companies was 9.9 per 1,000 workers.
• Just under 1 million employees (annually) of private companies were victims of workplace violence.