Thursday, December 07, 2006

Violence Continues To Injure And Kill Workers

Although workplace violence has fallen from the second leading cause of death in the workplace to fourth, it remains a major source of injuries and fatalities in the workplace.

A couple of good new studies on workplace violence have been issued recently with some interesting results that need to be considered as part of the debate about what the role of federal and state occupational health authorities should be in preventing these hazards.

But first a pop quiz to test your knowledge.

1. Who are the most common perpitrators of workplace violence?
a. Co-workers
b. Health care or residential patients
c. Criminals (e.g. robbers)
d. Spouses and former boyfriends
2. After suffering a workplace violence incident, most employers will
a. Implement or change their workplace violence policies.
b. Do nothing, hoping it was just a fluke that will never happen again.
c. Call OSHA
d. Punish the victim
3. Which Occupation suffered the most violent incidents (in Oregon)
a. Police and detectives
b. Guards
c. Nursing aides
d. Teachers (except postsecondary)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a survey of workplace violence, Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention, showing that the great majority of establishments that had experienced a workplace violence incident, did not change their workplace violence prevention policies, even though the incidents had a negative impact on their workforce. The BLS found that state governments reported higher percentages of all types of workplace violence than did local government or private industry. Only 5% of all business suffered a workplace violence incident in 2005, but almost half of large businesses (1,000 or more employees) suffered an incident.

Meanwhile an Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services issued a study, Violence in the Workplace: Accepted Disabling Claims due to Assaults and Violent Acts, Oregon, 2001-2005 (authored by Confined Space frequent commenter Tasha Hodges) reports that the state has received and average of 268 Accepted Disabling Claims each year for the past five years, including five homicides, which accounted for 2.6 percent of all work-related fatalities in Oregon. 41% of compensable assault claims were health care or residential care patients, and like the BLS survey, Oregon found that government employees suffer more workplace violence related injuries than private sector workers. The service and retail sectors were also heavily affected:
For most industries, assault claims accounted for less than 1 percent of all accepted disabling claims, but they accounted for 2.2 percent of claims in the service industry and 4.5 percent of claims from government.

The retail trade industry reported the third highest number of assault claims from 2001 to 2005, although the 159 assaults accounted for less than 1 percent of all of the claims for that industry.
And why do state government employees experience more workplace violence? According to the BLS:
These workplaces reported much higher percentages of working directly with the public, having a mobile workplace, working with unstable or violent persons, working in high crime areas, guarding valuable goods or property, and working in community based settings than did private industry.
The BLS report divides workplace violence into four types:
  • Criminal: Usually robbery, shoplifting, or trespassing
  • Customer or Client: Customers, clients, patients, students or inmates who have a legitimate relationship with the employer or business, and is being provided services.
  • Co-Workers: employees or past employees
  • Domestic Violence: usually a boy/girlfriend or spouse who assaults the victim at work.
Using similar categories, the Oregon study came to some conclusions that may surprise many people:
Many people assume that workplace violence refers to assaults perpetrated by violent employees. However, Oregon workers’ compensation data (as well as national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) do not support this assertion. Co-workers and former employees only accounted for 10 percent of assault claims from 2001 to 2005. The majority of assaults were committed by health care and residential care patients, who were responsible for 41 percent of assault claims.

Criminal offenders were the second most common violent attackers, accounting for almost 21 percent of assault claims. The criminal offenders category combines three distinct groups: criminal suspects, robbers and shoplifters, and correctional inmates.
Nursing Aides in Oregon suffered the highest number of assaults, follwed by police, guards and teachers.

Despite the prevalence of workplace violence, the BLS found that over 70% of all establishments had no workplace violence policy.