With the threat of workplace violence high on employers’ minds after a worker’s killing spree in early July left five Lockheed Martin employees dead in a Meridian, Miss. plant, new research shows that half of all workplace assaults in West Virginia over a three-year period victimized health care workers.

According to a study of workers’ compensation claims by West Virginia University researchers, nearly all of these attacks came from the people workers were trying to help — patients or nursing home residents.

Nationally, up to 45 percent of workplace assaults are committed by patients in health care settings.

Healthcare workers had the highest absolute number of assaults, but public safety workers experienced the highest rate of assault injuries (number of new cases per 100 workers), due to the nature of their work.

Teachers were identified as a high-risk occupation. But more information is needed to identify what type of teachers or setting — youth shelters, juvenile correctional facilities, schools — contributed to the finding.

The research, published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, reviewed workers’ compensation injuries from 1996 to 1999 in cases where violence was intentionally inflicted on an employee.

To find the cases for inclusion in the study, researchers searched the state’s workers’ compensation database using such keywords as: fight, assault, altercation, dispute, attack, kill, employee, boss, client and coworker.

For all three occupations, the hours from midnight to 8 a.m. were the most dangerous, but they were especially so for female healthcare workers.

Male workers sustained the bulk of the injuries in public safety because they form a larger proportion of that workforce.

Sprain was the most common severe assault injury across these three high-risk occupations. Other common injuries were bruises and fractures among healthcare workers, fractures and lacerations among public safety personnel and bruises and fractures among teachers.

West Virginia researchers also noticed a surge in assault injuries from February to June, called a “springtime peak.”