Q. Reports show a decrease in fatalities related to workplace violence, yet we are not seeing a downward trend in threats, assaults, intimidation, and the like in our organization. What does this mean?
A. Workplace violence is typically measured by the number of fatalities. However, due to many factors, including improvements and advancements in medical technology, a more accurate measurement of the effects of workplace violence might be to monitor the instances and effects of nonfatal assaults.
The term “workplace violence” is used to describe a wide range of behaviors such as bullying, intimidation, threats, assault and homicide. Fatal work related injuries are routinely reported but nonfatal injuries may not be.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace homicides declined 1 percent in 2009, in contrast to an overall decline of 17 percent for all fatal work injuries. The preliminary workplace homicide count for 2009 (521 cases) represents a decline of about half from the high of 1,080 homicides reported in 1994. Workplace suicides declined 10 percent from a series high of 263 cases in 2008 to 237 cases in 2009. However, this 2009 preliminary count of workplace suicides is the second highest annual total reported by the fatality census.
Violence at work is underreported, particularly since most violent or threatening behavior—verbal threats and abusive language, hostility, harassment and other forms, such as stalking—may not be reported until it reaches the point of actual physical assault or other disruptive behavior.
The BLS data indicates that fatal occupational injuries due to assaults and violent acts were actually down 8% between 2007 and 2008 (864 in 2007 to 794 in 2008). But, during the same period, office suicides reached an all time high since the data has been captured by the BLS (251 in 2008 compared to 196 in 2007) – a 28% increase.
In 2002, Liberty Mutual, in its annual Workplace Safety Index, cites “assaults and violent acts” as the 10th leading cause of nonfatal occupational injury, representing about 1% of all workplace injuries and a cost of $400 million.
According to the BLS 2005 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, the number of deaths between 1992 and 2004 ranged from a high of 1,080 in 1994 to a low of 551 in 2004.
The rates of non-fatal work-related assault injury are much greater and have different characteristics than fatal injuries. These nonfatal injury patterns need to be considered when estimating the burden of assault injuries on businesses, and can help identify the most effective prevention strategies.
In our opinion, the stats quoted above give credence to the notion that we may not be using the correct metrics and perhaps should be using different measurements that demonstrate the effects of violence in the workplace, rather than focusing so much on the number of fatalities.
Answer provided by Bob Hayes, Security Executive Council Managing Director, and Rosalind Jackson, Security Executive Council Staff Member.