Studies About Workplace Violence

Against the Current, No. 175, March/April 2015

Jane Slaughter

THE DEPARTMENT OF Labor defines workplace violence as “any threat or act of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at [a] worksite.”

The Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration says there are two million reports of workplace violence each year and that many more go unreported. The Department of Justice says that  workplace violence is less likely to be reported to the police than other violence: 47% of incidents vs. 52%.

Using a more restrictive category of “nonfatal violent crimes” at work — rape/sexual assault, robbery, simple assault and aggravated assault — the DOJ estimated 572,000 such incidents in 2009. In 2008, 82% were simple assaults, 15% were aggravated assaults, two percent were rapes or sexual assaults, and two percent robberies.

Even though the overall numbers — along with crime statistics generally — are trending downward, with a 35% decline in nonfatal incidents between 2002 and 2009, according to the Department of Justice, murders of government employees on the job are actually increasing, up to 90 in 2011.

Blacks and Latinos were murdered on the job in 2009 in numbers greater than their proportion of the workforce: 21.7% and 16.2%, respectively. Fifty-nine percent of women know their workplace attackers (in nonfatal assaults), while only 47% of men do.

A 2013 study published in Aggression and Violent Behavior found that most workplace violence came from outsiders, not co-workers, and that triggering factors were “mainly situational, stress-related, and purposeful — such as the perpetrator being refused a service or request.” But for 40% of women killed in the workplace from 1997 to 2010, the attackers were relatives — almost always a spouse or domestic partner. Only two percent of men’s murderers were relatives.

Overall — but not for those in some risky jobs — workers were safer at work than elsewhere: The average annual rate of workplace violence in 2005-2009 was five violent crimes per 1,000 employed persons. Non-workplace violence was three times as high: 16 violent crimes per 1,000 employed persons.

March/April 2014, ATC 175