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The first awareness of workplace violence was the emerging story of the Standard Gravure plant in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. Joseph Wesbecker murdered eight individuals, injured twelve others, and shortly thereafter committed suicide. I thought, "How could anyone get so distressed and outraged to commit such a heinous crime?" Months later, I was introduced to one of Wesbecker's
dream, if turned into reality, could have killed hundreds and certainly decimated several city blocks. That story has permeated my memory for over twenty years. Wesbecker's co-worker educated me that individual's bizarre daydreams sometimes become reality. If only Wesbecker's buddy would have taken him seriously and reported him, submersion of grief and remorse everyday of his life would be absent. Also, a company's sullied image would be reversed and once again be respected and not known for a rampage of carnage. However, most importantly lives would not have perished and multitudes of individuals would be deprived of the pain of Wesbecker's negative actions. The importance of co-workers reporting warning signs of impending trouble to their supervisors is imperative and could mean life or death.
"The National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health (NIOSH) defines workplace violence as violent acts including physical assaults and threats of assault directed toward persons at work or on duty." 1 Working in the automobile industry for seventeen years, I have heard physical threats and seen workplace violence. Larger organizations with a "higher ratios of male to female employees have been shown to have an increased risk of exposure"2 of workplace violence. "Furthermore male workers and supervisors have been found to be exposed to higher frequencies of negative behavior due to the often hostile and authoritarian culture of male-dominated work environments."2 My personal experiences working in diver office settings and manufacturing positions, I can attest to the validity of quoted statements from above.
My touch with workplace violence was the threatening of bodily harm from a co-worker. This dispute started when I discussed with management the poor quality from my co-workers work station into my work station and his unwillingness to remedy the situation. Vince after work followed me to the gas station and threatened me with bodily harm. I would have been no match for a 6' 5" and two hundred and forty pound confrontation; I certainly was concerned for my immediate and future well being. Immediately, I reported the gas station threat to Toyota management and luckily another employee from Toyota who witnessed the event was able to verify the threat.
Vince was suspended for three days and never spoke a word to me since the gas station incident. Fortunately, my management was proactive in this situation. Some companies are not as proactive and prepared as Toyota and Standard Gravure is such an example.
From years 1997 to 2003 perpetrators of co-worker homicides was 77% males.3 Working on
1U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety Health Administration (2003), Guidelines for preventing
workplace violence for health-care and social-service workers (OSHA Publication No. 3148)
2Privitera, Carmel & Campbell, Marilyn, (2009). Cyberbully: The new face of workplace bully?
CyberPsychology Behavior, 12, 395. doi: 10:1089/cpb 2009.0025
3U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Safety and Health, National Labor Review (Oct 2005)
Occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among women. Retrieved from
assembly lines, I can easily see emotionally charged males with social issues in a strenuous
physical environment can foster workplace violence. I am confident the majority of men can at least
commit a physical threat of violence under the most extreme cases of physiological and psychological stress.
Rick Riggle, a plant manager at Hitachi Cable Indiana knows well of workplace violence. Rick, a former Marine and a typical alpha male seems to be a target for other males. His worst story involved an incident previously being employed at Hitachi Cable Indiana at a tier one automotive manufacturer to Ford named Crown. Crown was a company representative of the male dominated automobile industry, however employed a considerable amount of former prison inmates. Stan, one of Rick's employees was a former inmate and an imposing muscular male who was 6" 4' and "no neck."4 Stan until the day of the assault was a model worker with no negative social or physical interactions at Crown. Outside appearances can be deceptive of the raging mind saturated with insecurities, revenge, and perceived social injustices to themselves. Ralph, a co-worker of Stan was a slight built fellow is his fifties, who was
amiable with everyone, had inadvertently dropped a wrench from a second level platform and landed on Stan's foot. Stan peered with rage at Ralph, who was unaware of his error and was joking and laughing with a nearby co-worker. Stan perceived Ralph's laughter was directed toward him. Stan charged to Ralph's work platform
Rick Riggle - Plant Manager Hitachi Cable Indiana
station and shoved with him so forcefully that it knocked off his watch and broke Ralph's collar bone and
4Richard Riggle (personal communication, July 8, 2010).
forearm. Rick scared for Ralph's life held Stan from behind and prevented him from further aggression against Ralph. One of Stan's friends, another a former prison inmate threatened Rick. Rick, being the brilliant communicator he was, managed to defuse the situation with both Stan and his friend. Later, Stan was crying in the bathroom and sheepishly told Rick in the three years from being released from the penitentiary this was the first time he lost his composure. Stan further revealed that his father repeatedly laughed at him during his childhood and associated Ralph's laughing with his father's laughter. Stan was terminated the next day and Ralph spent a week in the hospital.
Rick also was involved with another incident with his manager at Hitachi Cable Indiana. Al, his boss, became inflamed at Rick due to a flippant remark and threw a rock and struck Rick in the head. Al did not get fired; however, Rick did get promoted to Plant Manger shortly after this incident. Al continues to be Rick's boss and a contentious relationship still continues. Our company does not have a written workplace violence policy at the time of writing this paper. I have advocated with Human Resources at Hitachi to have a written workplace violence plan. Unfortunately, our Human Resource Manager did not share in my enthusiasm on the subject. She stated if we have a written policy we will lose our flexibility to deal with those situations individually. Her response puts Hitachi at increased physical risk for all employees and heightened financial risk without a written workplace violence policy.
Workplace violence can occur in any level of an organization and workplace violence occurs more often than one would think. In 1994, there were 1071 cases of workplace homicides.5 Homicides are obviously the worse of workplace violence, but threatening of violence is workplace violence just the same, less known, and easier to commit. Workplace threatening can be one on one, vicarious information, or even though electronic communication devices such as the computer or cell phone. Electronic workplace violence is more subtle, but the adverse affects to the victims are still troubling.
5Collins, R. C., & Schneid ,T. D. (2001) Appendix G. In Schneid, T., Editor, Physical hazards of the
workplace (pp. 287). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
All employers should have in their policy of workplace that threats on electronic communications would be subject to progressive disciplinary matters up to termination.
Certain industries are more dispositional to workplace violence even when female to male workplace ratios are more balanced. Positions that deal with the general public have greater workplace
violence tendencies than ones absent from public service. General public workforces do not have the luxury of picking and choosing who arrives at their workplace unlike some businesses. Three such industries are the health, retail, and state and local government agencies.
The health industry possesses some of the highest rates of non-fatal violent crimes in the workplace. This includes hospitals, mental and social facilities, and pharmacies. "The average annual rate for non-fatal violent crimes for all occupations is 12.6 per 1,000 workers."6 "The average annual workplace violence rate is for physicians 16.2 incidents; nurses 21.9 incidents; mental health professionals 68.2 incidents; and mental health custodial workers 69 incidents per 1,000 cases."6 Patients on prescription or nonprescription drugs and who are physically ill may accidently injury an employee. A drug abuser who is hallucinating during a transfer from stretcher to a hospital bed could easily and unintentionally injure a nurse's aide during the patient's psychotic fit. Purposeful harm also exists due to mental illness and violence from the patients from all walks of life. Mental hospitals are obviously dangerous with more deviant conduct on average than hospitals and the general population.
Being a local or state government employee can be another risky place to work. "Thirty-two percent of all state government workplaces reported some form of workplace violence".7 In addition to public work being a factor in higher violence rates, the location of an establishment does have bearing
6U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (2003 Revised). Guidelines
for preventing workplace violence for health-care and social-service workers (OSHA Publication 3148).
7U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2005). Survey of workplace violence (U.S
Department of Labor News (USDL Publication No. 06-1860).
on the workplace violence rate. Urban and lower economically stricken areas where many city and state governments are positioned are contributors to increased workplace violence.
Some employees are consistently in jeopardy working with repeat violent offenders and those who are absent of emotional control. Social workers, police officers, judges and reformatory workers are examples of victims of workplace violence. The bureaucracy of the government and seemingly nature of issues not being resolved can lead an emotionally unstable person into an outrage against an employee who innocently represents the government. We have all at times been frustrated with government inefficacies in our personal live, but emotionally handicapped individuals can take this to an extreme.
The third occupation that has higher incidents is then the retail and service industry. Examples of victims are retail clerks, convenience store attendants, waiters and waitresses and your local bank teller. Handling financial transactions by the nature of the job puts them at risk for thieves. Valuable merchandise being guarded can be the equivalent of cash for robbers. Late night hours adds additional risk to many in the retail and service industry. Many of the employees in this type of positions are minorities, "which comprises of one-eighth of the workforce, but constitute one-fourth of all the victims". Females also are a disproportional share of workers in this industry and women account for 53% of all homicides in the retail industry. 8 It is a shame that many of the industries pay lower than other industries; however they are not compensated for the risk involved with these positions. Working on a late second shift for many years, I often wondered about the safety of one-person supervised gas stations.
The size of a business makes a difference in the propensity of workplace violence. The greater the employment rates of a company the more likelihood of an episode of workplace violence. It is
8Collins, R. C., & Schneid ,T. D. (2001) Appendix G. In Schneid, T., Editor, Physical hazards of the
workplace (pp. 288). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
estimated that half of businesses that have 1,000+ employees have incidents of workplace violence.9 Personally, I can attest to the validity of these numbers. Toyota Motor Manufacturing employed eight thousand workers and the tenacity of violence was much greater there than Honda with four thousand workers or Hitachi Cable with four hundred. These large companies are like small cities and you interact with many individuals from heterogeneous backgrounds which can a source of friction, just like the general public. The orientation of these many of these large companies is production manufacturing. Many of these factories are not air conditioned and the physical and heat related stress especially in the summer causes shorter emotional fuses.
In general, there are 4 categories of perpetrators and victims of violence in the workplace:9,10
Employee to Employee - including contract employers - ex. - employee to manager
Familial/Partner Violence - violence to a family member/significant other - ex. spouse abuse
Criminal Violence - concurrence with another crime - ex. breaking and entering
Service Provider Violence - conjunction with a business relationship - ex. customer abuse
Many instances of workplace violence the assaulter had some sort of personal contact previous with the victim. Random instances of sociopathic behavior to strangers are rare, unless the intent is for economic gain.
Workplace procedures for other OSHA related issues such as Bloodborne Pathogens and Emergency Response Procedures are mandated by OSHA. Workplace violence procedures are not mandatory with OSHA; however documented procedures and having a blueprint to follow alleviate problems in the future. Procedures should state that no workplace violence is tolerated and employees
need to be trained during their first week of employment. When expectations are introduced in the
9U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2005). Survey of workplace violence (U.S
Department of Labor News (USDL Publication No. 06-1860).
10U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (2005). Survey of workplace violence (U.S
Department of Labor News (USDL Publication No. 06-1860).
beginning, greater compliance usually follows. Employees knowing and understanding workplace
violence can prevent future misfortunes at the jobsite. Many employees are unaware that threatening an employee is considered workplace violence by OSHA standards. I was ignorant of this fact until I researched this paper.
Written documentation should be required and everyone is held accountable for understanding the policy. The trainer and trainee needs to both sign documentation of the training along with the date trained. Training records need to be retained by management. Yearly refresher training to all employees is a good suggestion to keep subject matter current in people's minds. Companies such as mine are placing themselves in legal jeopardy by not have a written workplace violence procedure and not following the rules consistently.
All employees should be involved in the prevention of workplace violence especially management. Management needs extra training in order to mitigate potential workplace violence activities and assure positive outcomes as a result. Management needs to give commitment to resources to provide the administrative and engineering controls to prevent workplace violence. Administrative control includes having a clearly defined workplace violence procedure and the training resources for all employees. Immediate reporting of any violence act should be reported and documented immediately and recording of OSHA 300 logs if applicable. Through investigations are to be done and management compassion to the victims needs to be ensured. Employee background checks are another form of administrative control and are an effective screening tool. Another administrative prevention is abdicating employees from working alone and making themselves easy prey to criminals. Onsite security is also a deterrent; however with the economy being battered many companies cannot afford a guard. A free administrative control is keeping unnecessary entrances locked from the outside.
Engineering controls are also an effective to prevent workplace violence. On-site video camera surveillance is an outstanding method to prevent violence. Individuals are less likely to commit offenses when their actions are recorded. Proper lighting on facilities premises is effective in hindering unwanted personnel on a property. Good communication systems which radios, cell phones and emergency notification are essential in alleviating conflicts and contacting emergency personnel. An electronic badge to gain admission to an employer is cost effective at fifteen dollars a badge after initial installation of an entry system.
Trending analysis of all workplace violence may give management insight to other preventative measures. Training of employees on signs, symptoms, and reporting procedures for workplace violence situations and how employees and management react to these situations is the most important of all controls.
In conclusion, a company can have every safeguard imaginable, but still can have workplace violence. Training, work procedures, administrative and engineering controls are a company's due diligence in coping with workplace violence and these measures are effective, however not foolproof. Toyota Motor Manufacturing of Kentucky several years ago had a serious partner violence dispute. Both employees were employed there, but in different departments on opposite shifts. The girl-friend was having an affair with another co-worker and the boy-friend become informed of his cheating partner. He came into the workplace as he normal did and waited at the turnstile for his partner. Her shift ended and when exiting out of the turnstile, he physically assaulted his girl-friend and put her in the hospital for three days. What was so amazing about the situation, a group of people stood there in shock and awe while she was being beaten. Toyota had the upmost precautious in the form of security and strict workplace procedures and still had a violent workplace incident. Failures in the best of companies in the prevention of workplace violence cannot predict all events of human emotions and violence. However, with the proper engineering and administrative controls, along with management commitment, the severity of workplace violence episodes can greatly be reduced. The tragedy of the Standard Gravure has never been repeated of that magnitude in Louisville and businesses in general have implemented countermeasures to prevent workplace violence in my working career since 1989.
That Toyota incident was in 1998 and the country is improving and heading in the right direction. Increased awareness of workplace violence has reduced from 1071 cases in 199411 to 610 in 200712 a 46% decrease. However, with workplace violence incidents still this high more work needs to be done.
11Collins, R. C., & Schneid ,T. D. (2001) Appendix G. In Schneid, T., Editor, Physical hazards of the
workplace (pp. 288). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
12Wassell, J. T. (2009) Workplace violence intervention effectiveness: A systematic literature review.
Safety Science, 47, 1049-1055.