For American businesses and corporations,
even in an age when the internet has dramatically changed
the structure of commerce on so many levels, the quality,
talent and security of people still make all the difference.
Technology alone does not drive the success of American
People are any corporation’s
most valuable asset—to the point that they invest millions
of dollars in attracting, compensating, educating and
retaining good, quality people. This challenge continues
to grow in complexity, as economic forces of the last
several years that have caused all of us to have to do
more with less. The result: good people are more valuable
At the same time, the result
of these trends is an unprecedented human capital challenge
that is forcing organizations to rethink how they attract,
retain, and continuously develop a pool of talented workers.
Indeed, this is happening all over the globe. In a recent
Accenture study, executives in the United
States, Europe, and Australia
listed workforce-related issues among their leading organizational
priorities. Key issues cited by the respondents included:
attracting and retaining skilled staff; reducing operational
costs; improving employee retention and productivity,
and improving workforce safety.
According to the American Society for
Training and Development (ASTD): “A high-knowledge, multi-skilled
workforce is the most important competitive resource available
to organizations today. Instead of an economy organized
around mass production, recent years have witnessed the
rise of an economy dominated by technology and service
industries that emphasize innovation, speed, cross-functionality,
and strong customer relations.”
Thus, corporate growth and success will
continue to rest upon the shoulders of its people, who
work in a multitude of environments, engaging others inside
and outside the organization. While successful commerce
relies on this dynamic, today’s corporations must also
consider the risks involved in this process, and endeavor
to minimize them.
The Risks of Workplace Violence
Among these risks is the fact
that community-based workers are significantly vulnerable
to violence. These
people include but
are not limited to:
and water utility workers
and foodservice operators
They are at higher risk for a few simple
work alone or in small groups,
may have to work late at night or early morning hours,
often must travel to high-crime areas or work in community
settings and homes which, by definition, involve extensive
contact with the public.
Further, another group at risk consists
of higher-tier level professionals and executives
who travel overseas. Over the last fifteen years, in many
other countries, particularly in Asia, Latin America,
South America, and Africa, a “ransom trade” has emerged in which American business
people are routinely kidnapped and held for ransom. As
a result, today’s corporations must purchase “kidnap &
ransom insurance” as a part of their risk management portfolios.
Violence is a risk factor that reaches
across a wide range of industries. For example:
September, 2005, the Journal of Environmental Health reported
that violence and hostility was a common occurrence
for many field inspectors all across the country, citing
countless anecdotal evidence of non-fatal encounters,
and profiling three murders within the past twelve years.
in September, 2005, the National
Association of Realtors® (NAR) held its third annual REALTOR® Safety Week.
In recent years, the real estate industry has taken
a closer look at this issue. Realtors are vulnerable.
They travel alone to vacant properties with strangers.
Men are robbed; women are robbed and sometimes raped.
And both sexes are murdered. According to the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),
about 70 real estate agents were killed on the job between
1980 and 1992, the last year for which statistics are
available. Further, an NAR safety survey from June 2003
revealed that one out of four Realtors® who
responded was involved in dangerous incidents on the
occur nearly four times more often in health
care than in all private sector industries combined.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that
there were 69 homicides in the health services industry
from 1996 to 2000. BLS data shows that in 2000, 48 percent
of all non-fatal injuries from occupational assaults
and violent acts occurred in health care and social
services. As significant as these numbers are, the actual
number of incidents is probably much higher. Incidents
of violence are likely to be underreported, perhaps
due in part to the persistent perception within the
health care industry that assaults are part of the job.
May 2004, the American
Society of Safety Engineers' (ASSE) survey on workplace
violence reported that 44% of 750 respondents had indicated
that their place of work had been victim to incidents
of violence since 1998. (That same survey also revealed
that 74% of the 750 respondents had not under-gone any education in formal risk assessment or management
of the potential for violence in the workplace.)
a result of the 5,500 reported incidents of workplace
violence that occur every day, at least three people are
murdered. On average, 17 workers are killed each week
and 13,000 women are assaulted, stalked or murdered at
work by a significant other each year.
It is the second greatest cause of death for men
in the workplace, and the first greatest cause of death
Recently, the U.S. Department of Labor
reported that 2003 saw the first spike in workplace violence
in three years.
A March, 2004 FBI Report estimated that nearly 80%
of workplace homicides are committed by criminals with
no other connection to the workplace, who have committed
robberies or other violent crimes. According to the Bureau
of Justice Statistics, (BJS) US Department of Justice,
in 2002 nearly 750,000 crimes of violence were committed
each year against people at work or on duty and another
170,000 against people traveling to and from work.
However, the sobering reality is that
workplace homicides are only the tip of the iceberg—a
much larger risk lied in the non-fatal workplace violence
incidents. It has been estimated by the Bureau of Labor
Statistics that between 1.5 and two million incidents
occur each year, and many suspect that this is under-reported
by approximately 50 percent.
business cannot afford to take its human capital for granted.
Today, the growth rate of the labor pool is slowing.
The annual growth of the U.S. population as a whole has decreased
from 1.3 percent in the 1980s to 1.1 percent today. The
implications for the labor force are clear: current projections
by the Employment Policy Foundation indicate that by 2008,
4.6 million jobs will remain unfilled—up from 2.3 million
concerns aside, employers also have specific legal obligations,
and there is little wiggle room. Occupational Safety
and Health Administration rules require companies to provide
a workplace “free from recognized hazards.” The courts
interpret this to mean that to meet liability requirements,
a written policy on how the company will avoid workplace
employees and managers to avoid and deal with threats,
But even though these statistics underscore
the growing value of human capital, as well as the threat
posed to all U.S. companies from workplace violence,
most employers are failing to mitigate the increased risk
of such incidents.
Most employers are failing to take proactive measures
to protect their most valuable assets: their people.
Violence and the Financial Risks
it comes to assessing risk, statistics can sometimes be
deceiving. Executives and risk managers may examine regional
and national data, compared with their own internal statistics,
and deem the risk to be too low to merit attention. However,
what is often underestimated is not the cost of action
(proactive steps to avoid violence), but rather the cost
of inaction: the widespread financial consequences
when an incident occurs.
Just What Is Workplace Violence?
First, for clarification, let us define
workplace violence. When one hears the term, one often
has the image of what we see in the mainstream media,
with the sensational, dramatic and rare types of violent
assaults, such as those carried out by disgruntled employees.
Unfortunately, this distracts attention from the real,
very common issues, warning signs and dangers.
Violence, according to the U.S. Department of Labor,
is “violence or threat of violence against workers. It
can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from
threats to verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide
(which is one of the leading causes of job-related deaths).”
An alternate definition presented by The National Institute for the Prevention of Workplace Violence
may be “Violent acts including assaults and threats which
occur in, or are related to the workplace and entail a
substantial risk of physical or emotional harm to individuals,
or damage to an organizations resources or capabilities.”
More specifically it includes:
violence that causes or is intended to cause injury
or harm to a person or property
remarks and/or behavior in which intent to harm is stated
or implied or indicates a lack of respect for the dignity
and worth of an individual.
abuse, mobbing, bullying, emotional abuse
of a weapon while working or on company property
is the Cost of Workplace Violence?
cost to American business from workplace violence is estimated
at $120 billion a year. The average jury award, in subsequent
liability cases where the employer failed to take proactive,
preventive measures under the 1996 OSHA guidelines, is
$3.1 million per person, per incident.
So, what is the cost of violence? Of course,
loss of life and suffering can't be measured financially.
But we can put a price tag on sick time and workers’ compensation
claims filed by injured employees. The DOJ estimates that
employees involved in workplace violence miss an average
of 3.5 days of work after a crime has occurred, and stabbing
and shooting victims are out of work an average of five
to six weeks.
Council on Compensation Insurance found that companies
paid out $126 million in workers' compensation claims
for workplace violence in 1995. In 2003, NCCI updated
and extended its earlier analysis on this violence in
the workplace. The following are among the key findings:
2000, workplace assaults and homicides ticked up, although
the long-term trend continues to suggest a moderation
compensation claims involving a criminal act are 10 times more likely than nonviolence claims to involve a fatality
incident rates remain high, particularly in health care,
the retail trade, and other customer-facing industries
- Men continue to make up the majority
of workplace homicide victims, while women are the majority
of workplace assault victims—primarily because there
are more women in health care-related industries
- Workers compensation claims (injuries)
resulting from criminal violence differ substantially
from claims where violence is not a factor
Of course, compensation insurance, in
both premiums paid to companies, and claims paid out to
victims (which include both the injured and any other
employees who witnessed or were traumatized by the violent
incident), is only one of many costs
of workplace violence, which include but are certainly
not limited to:
in medical claims for stress-related illnesses, as well
as psychological counseling for all employees after
a violent incident.
time taken up by managers' involvement in dealing with
the press, meetings to help plan the company's reaction
to a violent incident, meetings to help get the company
back to normal, and other activities tied to a violent
time and absenteeism following a violent incident.
of productivity in the wake of a violent incident.
sales, which can occur if a company must close its site
for a period of time after a violent incident and if
customers cancel orders or postpone purchases in the
wake of bad publicity.
publicity, which is hard to quantify but can have a
residual effect on the company.
company’s reactive mode. In the wake of a violent incident,
companies tend to go overboard when putting in programs
to prevent a recurrence of workplace violence. These
costs can include consultants' time, training programs,
enhanced security and improved safety procedures.
The Best Defense
Every organization has the legal and moral
obligation to provide a safe environment for its employees—even
if the employees operate outside of the office.
In any conflict, the best defense is first
a good offense. In other words, the proactive approach
is preferable (and more cost effective) to a reactive
one. In the case of combating workplace violence, the
proactive approach is prevention.
People must understand how and why violence occurs,
and know how to avoid it.
The first step in prevention is for business
leaders to understand the complexities of the problem.
As indicated on pages 4 and 5, the common imagery of disgruntled
employees “going postal” with a shotgun in hand is the
rare case. Ironically, the term “violence” tends to become
misleading. Many business leaders believe that if there
is no record of employees getting shot or killed, there
really isn’t a problem. The common image of violence masks
the underlying behavior that most often precedes it—aggression.
Aggression occurs not just in overtly
violent acts, but in threatening remarks and/or behavior
in which intent to harm is stated or implied. It occurs
in employee harassment or any other actions that show
a lack of respect for the dignity and worth of an individual.
This also includes verbal abuse, mobbing, bullying, or
acts of emotional abuse that often go tolerated and unreported
for far too long.
This is what distinguishes workplace violence
from many other risks that American businesses face. Natural
and economic threats often occur with little warning.
On the contrary, the risk of violence is often predictable,
There are many steps today’s businesses
can take to prevent workplace violence—and it goes beyond
“adopting a policy of zero-tolerance.” Strong hiring and
performance-management policies can help screen out employees
prone to violence and protect a company somewhat from
charges of negligent hiring in the event of a lawsuit.
Communication is the second issue. Companies
must have the channels in place through which employees
can seek counseling, or a victimized employee can report
incidence of aggression, or dangerous encounters out in
Managers must also learn how to handle
these reports, and they must be accountable for doing
so. This way, managers can't take the easy way out by
ignoring a troubled employee, or worse, simply transferring
the employee to a new area or department without addressing
the root cause of the individual's problem. A strong performance
management program and grievance system can also help
employees deal with work-related frustrations constructively.
Most importantly, however, is the role
that safety education plays in preventing violence. Business
cannot always control or prevent occurrences from the
outside. What they can control (or at least influence)
are the choices their people make to:
avoid potentially dangerous situations, and
respond appropriately when danger occurs.
Who Owns the Problem?
From a practical standpoint, many mangers
find themselves confused as to who really owns workplace
violence prevention: Human resources? Security? Risk management?
The answer: all
of the above and then some. The reality is that the
elements of workplace violence crop up on many different
levels and areas within the company. Therefore, companies
need a team of people to handle workplace violence prevention
including representatives from all the relevant areas
of the company.
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