Note: This article contains descriptions of violent acts, including sexual assault.
Safety professionals are responsible for mitigating the many ways employees are endangered on the job, including the potential for violent crime.
Workplace homicides account for approximately 9% of all fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. In 2020, there were also 37,060 nonfatal injuries in the workplace resulting from an intentional injury by another person, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
These incidents have wide-ranging, damaging effects. According to the “Indicators of Workplace Violence, 2019” report released in July 2022 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, BLS and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), “Victims of workplace violence can suffer from lasting physical and psychological problems and bear the financial burden of care after experiencing a violent incident. Workplace violence can also affect co-workers, witnesses and victims’ families.”
For organizations, violent acts can lower employee productivity and morale and increase turnover. These acts can also increase an organization’s financial burdens in the form of workers’ compensation payments, medical expenses, lawsuits and liability costs.
The report reviews data collected between 1992 and 2019 to identify key characteristics and trends related to workplace violence, including homicides. The report shares several key findings that identify trends safety professionals need to know.
1. Workplace homicides have decreased over the past 30 years
Homicides decreased 58% overall between 1994 and 2019. However, the lowest point was in 2014. Since then, workplace homicides have increased by 11%.
Between 2015 and 2019, 21% of victims in workplace homicides worked in sales and related occupations; 19% worked in protective-service occupations, notably police officers and security guards; and 9% were persons in management occupations (e.g., owners or managers of restaurants and hotels).
2. Nonfatal violence has decreased since the 1990s
In 2019, the rate of nonfatal workplace violence was 9.2 violent crimes per 1,000 workers age 16 or older, a 70% decrease from 1994 when the rate was 31 violent crimes per 1,000 workers.
Aggravated assaults accounted for 15% of nonfatal workplace violence, while rapes or sexual assaults and robberies represented 4% each. Of these, 12% resulted in victim injury and of those, 2% resulted in serious injuries (including gunshot and knife wounds, internal injuries, unconsciousness, broken bones and rape without other serious injuries).
3. Simple assault is increasing
Despite the downward trend over the past 30 years, nonfatal workplace violence actually increased 34% from 2015 to 2019. This is primarily due to an increase in simple assault in the workplace. From 2015 to 2019, simple assault accounted for 77% of nonfatal workplace violence.
Simple assault is defined as the threat or attempted injury of another. It does not need to include physical contact.
4. Nearly three-quarters of victims experience emotional distress
In total, 74% of victims of nonviolent workplace violence said they experienced mild (35%), moderate (24%) or severe (15%) emotional distress. Victims were more likely to report problems with work and school than problems with family and friends as a result of the crime.
5. Only half of nonfatal violent incidents occur in restricted areas
From 2015 to 2019, 49% of nonfatal workplace violence occurred in restricted areas, or places that limited access to certain persons or prohibited anyone from access. Teachers had the highest percentage of workplace violence occur in restricted areas (82%), followed by mental health workers (75%). Only 12% of nonfatal workplace violence against retail workers occurred in restricted areas.
6. Most nonfatal workplace violence incidents aren’t reported to police
Only 41% of nonfatal workplace violence was reported to police in 2019. Of these incidents, 55% were reported by the victim, while 19% were reported by someone official, including guards, apartment managers and school officials.
The primary reasons cited for reporting nonfatal workplace violence to police were to get help with the incident (because it was a crime) or to deal with the offender (contain, stop or punish the offender, or prevent the offender from committing future violence). The biggest reasons for not reporting nonfatal workplace violence to police were that an incident was reported to another official or the victim didn’t think an incident was important.
7. Firearms are the most common weapon in homicides, but not in aggravated assaults
From 2015 to 2019, nearly 80% of workplace homicides involved a shooting. Most nonviolent workplace incidents did not involve a weapon, primarily because the category included cases of simple assault where no physical contact occured.
When excluding simple assault, 71% of nonfatal violent crimes involved a weapon. Most offenders used knives, followed by firearms, then other weapons, such as blunt objects.
8. White men older than 25 make up the majority of workplace homicide victims
Between 2015 and 2019, 82% of workplace homicide victims were men. Nearly half were white, 25% were Black and 16% were Hispanic. Sixty-six percent of workplace homicide victims were between ages 25 and 54, while workers ages 55 to 64 accounted for 17%. Proportionately similar figures were reported for victims of fatal occupational injuries.
9. Violent offenders are most commonly men who act alone
Male offenders committed most workplace violence incidents (64%). White offenders committed 36% of nonfatal workplace violence, compared to 21% by Black offenders and 15% by Hispanic offenders. Offenders age 30 or older committed 43% of nonfatal workplace violence and 82% acted alone. Strangers committed 47% of nonfatal workplace violence, with male victims less likely than female victims to know the offender.
10. Law enforcement and healthcare workers are more likely to suffer nonfatal injuries that require time off work
In 2019, law enforcement workers were 10 times more likely to experience workplace violence resulting in days away from work than all other occupations combined. Among all cases of workplace violence resulting in days away from work in 2019, about one in four cases occurred among nursing, psychiatric and home-health-aide workers.
11. Women are more likely to suffer nonfatal injuries that require time off work
Across all occupations, women were twice as likely to suffer nonfatal injuries due to workplace violence resulting in days away from work. According to the Department of Labor, 27 percent of all violent events in the workplace were tied to domestic violence. Nearly one-third of women murdered at work were killed by intimate partners, including spouses, ex-partners and people they were dating, according to NIOSH.
By understanding these trends, safety professionals can help their organizations better mitigate the risk of workplace violence and respond more effectively should an incident occur.
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