Workplace Violence Remains a Serious Issue

crime scene tape hanging in office

The issue on everyone’s mind these days, and for good reason, is clearly coronavirus. However, workplace violence continues to be an important safety and health topic that should be discussed on a regular basis. Workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide. It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors. 

The most extreme form of workplace violence, homicide, is the third leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the United States.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 453 workplace homicides in 2018, accounting for 12% of the total 5,250 fatal work injuries in the United States.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed
guidelines and recommendations to reduce worker exposure to this hazard but has not created a specific regulation yet. However, Section 5(a)(1), better known as the General Duty clause, requires employers to provide their employees with a workplace free from recognized hazards, which includes protecting employees from workplace violence.

Reducing Workplace Violence Starts with Understanding the Different Types

In order to mitigate the risk of violence in your workplace, it is important that you understand the four main types of workplace violence. The fifth type, ideological violence, is not included below.

  1. Criminal intent. A perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. These crimes can include robbery, shoplifting, trespassing and terrorism.
  2. Customer or client.  This category includes customers, clients, patients, students, inmates and any other group for which the business provides services. It is believed that a large portion of customer/client incidents occur in the health care industry in settings such as nursing homes or psychiatric facilities. The victims are often patient caregivers. Police officers, flight attendants and teachers are other examples of workers who may be exposed to this kind of workplace violence, which accounts for approximately three percent of all workplace homicides.
  3. Worker-on-worker. The perpetrator is an employee or past employee who attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace. Worker-on-worker fatalities account for approximately seven percent of all workplace homicides.
  4. Personal relationship. The perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This category includes victims of domestic violence assaulted or threatened while at work and accounts for about five percent of all workplace homicides.

Risks Factors for Workplace Violence

  • Poor environmental design, blind spots, etc.
  • Poorly lit corridors, rooms, parking lots and other areas
  • Conflicts with coworkers
  • Domestic issues that follow employees to the workplace
  • Inadequate security (lack of alarms, doors being left open, etc.)
  • Working alone and/or with cash
  • Working when understaffed or late at night
  • Lack of staff training in violence prevention
  • Inadequate management plans and policies


    Developing a plan/program

  • Convene a team of key stakeholders. This will vary by industry, location, business model, and many more aspects.
  • Involve local law enforcement and support agencies such as responding medical departments and employee assistance program staff.
  • Have the team conduct a hazard analysis and develop a violence prevention plan.
  • Consistently reevaluate the plan as incidents occur and at least annually.
  • Educate employees, make the plan available.
  • Incorporate your plan into your emergency response plan or create an emergency response plan if you don’t have one.
  • Always include post-incident debriefing and mental health/stress support.

For more information on this subject tune into the MEMIC Safety Experts Podcast “Are you Prepared? Violence in the American Workplace with Rob Sylvester.” You can also read more from our safety management consultants previous posts including Do you need assistance developing a workplace violence prevention policy? Policyholders can also log into their Safety Director account to view these previously recorded training sessions:

Workplace Violence (general)

Workplace Violence in Healthcare

Workplace Violence in Acute Care


Written by Jennifer Campbell and Rob Sylvester