According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence that occurs at the worksite.

Each year, nearly 2 million Americans are victims of workplace violence. It is an ongoing threat for employers, and while there is no federal law that establishes an employer’s duty to prevent workplace violence, employers still need to comply with OSHA’s Act of 1970. This act states that each employer must furnish a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

Different workplaces are at risk for different types of violence, so identifying the type of violence your workplace is most likely to experience can help with planning and preventing incidents of workplace violence.

The Four Types of Workplace Violence

In order to understand the risk factors that contribute to workplace violence, employers need to know that workplace violence typically falls into one of four categories.

  • Criminal Intent: With this category, the perpetrator has no relationship with the business or its employees. Violence is usually incidental to another crime, such as robbery, shoplifting, or trespassing. Acts of terrorism fall would also fall into this category.

    Example: High-risk positions include retail clerks, bank tellers, and food establishment employees. A perpetrator could walk into any of these locations to steal and/or harm employees. 

  • Customer / Client: The violent person has a relationship with the business in some capacity. The perpetrator is a customer, client, patient, student, or inmate — and become violent while being served by the company or someone in the business.

    Example: Health care industry professionals are at the highest risk for this type of interaction as well as flight attendants or teachers.

  • Worker on Worker: This type of violence is usually an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens another employee or previous employee in the workplace. Worker-on-worker violence accounted for approximately 15 percent of all workplace homicides in 2014.

    Example: This type of violence could include an employee who is angry at a manager for not getting a raise or a past employee who was fired.

  • Personal relationship: In this category, the perpetrator has a personal relationship with the intended victim, but not the business. This can include victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work. This type of violence accounts for approximately 7 percent of all workplace homicides in 2014.

    Example: This type of violence can occur at any business, but is most difficult for workplaces accessible to the public. Women are at a higher risk of being victims.

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Reduce the Risk of Workplace Violence

In spite of all the best training and plans, any business can still experience an incident of workplace violence. It’s important that workers feel safe when reporting to their jobs. It’s up to employers to create programs and policies that reduce the risk of workplace violence.

When preparing an emergency response plan, employers should include policies and procedures that address all four types of workplace violence mentioned above.

Take all threats of violence seriously and create opportunities for employees to report abuse or potential violence. They should also be able to do this anonymously so they can feel protected.

Provide supervisors with proper training to avoid claims of negligent hiring and negligent retention that can arise after an incident of workplace violence. Learning de-escalation and self-defense techniques can help in defusing situations and make staff feel safer.

Employers should also prepare an Emergency Action Plan, making sure to get buy-in from management staff and performing routine check-ins with all staff. This can also include counseling for employees and follow-up protocols.

Protection from Costly Claims

At McGown Program Administrators, our Active Shooter / Workplace Violence Program covers a wide range of different types of workplace violence and can protect your business from costly claims in the aftermath of an incident of workplace violence.

We help organizations manage the risk of violence in the workplace, and make sure they are prepared if violence does strike. We also encourage companies to develop programs to help identify troubled individuals and intervene to prevent incidents of workplace violence.