Violence in the Workplace


July 1996
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 96-100

Logo for Violence in the Workplace

Current Intelligence Bulletin 57

Homicide in the Workplace


Data from the National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) Surveillance System indicate that 9,937 workplace homicides occurred during the 13-year period from 1980 through 1992, with an average workplace homicide rate of 0.70/100,000 workers (Table 1) [NIOSH 1995]. Over the course of the 1980s, workplace homicides decreased; but in the 1990s, the numbers began to increase, surpassing machine-related deaths and approaching the number of workplace motor-vehicle-related deaths (Figure 1). Although the 1992 figure was lower than that for 1991, it exceeded the 1990 figure and did not include 1992 data for New York City and the State of Connecticut. NTOF is an ongoing, death-certificate-based census of traumatic occupational fatalities in the United States, with data from all 50 States and the District of Columbia. NTOF includes information for all workers aged 16 or older who died from an injury or poisoning and for whom the certifier noted a positive response to the injury at work? item on the death certificate. For additional discussion of the NTOF system and the limitations of death certificates for the study of workplace homicide, see Castillo and Jenkins [1994].

Table 1. Workplace homicides in the United States, 1980–92*

Year Number Rate
1980 929 0.96
1981 944 .94
1982 859 .86
1983 721 .72
1984 660 .63
1985 751 .70
1986 672 .61
1987 649 .58
1988 699 .61
1989 696 .59
1990 725 .61
1991 875 .75
1992 757 .64
Total 9,937 .70

Source: NIOSH [1995]. *Data not available for New York City and Connecticut. Per 100,000 workers.

Figure 1. Leading causes of occupational injury deaths—United States, 1980-1992. Data were not available for New York City and Connecticut. (Source: Jenkins [1996].)


The majority (80%) of workplace homicides during 1980–92 occurred among male workers. The leading cause of occupational injury death varied by sex, with homicides accounting for 11% of all occupational injury deaths among male workers and 42% among female workers [NIOSH 1995]. The majority of female homicide vicims were employed in retail trade (46%) and service (22%) industries (Table 2). A large number of male homicide victims were employed not only in retail trade (36%) and service (16%) industries but in public administration (11%) and transportation/communication/public utilities (11%) (Table 2). Although homicide is the leading cause of occupational injury death among female workers, male workers have more than three times the risk of work-related homicide (Table 3).

Table 2. Workplace homicides by industry and sex—United States 1980–92*

Homicides (% of total)
Industry Male Worker Female Workers
Retail trade 36.1 45.5
Services 16.0 22.2
Public Administration 10.5 2.9
Transportation/Communication/Public Utilities 10.6 3.8
Manufacturing 7.0 4.9
Construction 4.1 .6
Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing 2.7 .6
Finance/insurance/real Estate 2.4 6.8
Wholesale Trade 1.7 1.1
Mining .6 .1
Not classified 8.5 11.7

Source: NIOSH [1995].
*Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
Percentages add to more than 100% because of rounding.

Table 3. Workplace homicides by age group and sex—United States, 1980–92*

Male Workers Female Workers All Workers
Age group Number Rate Number Rate Number Rate
16–19 242 0.55 102 0.25 344 0.41
20–24 796 .87 285 .35 1,081 .62
25–34 2,020 .89 591 .33 2,611 .65
35–44 1,841 .99 423 .28 2,265 .68
45–54 1,344 1.04 293 .29 1,637 .71
55–64 1,055 1.22 191 .31 1,246 .84
65+ 620 2.59 115 .71 735 1.83
Total 7,935 2,001 9,937
Average 1.01 .32 .70

Source: NIOSH [1995].
*Data from New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
Rates are per 100,000 workers.
Totals include victims for whom age data were missing (17 male workers) and 1 worker whose sex was not reported.


The age of workplace homicide victims ranged from 16 (the youngest reported in NTOF) to 93 during 1980–92. The largest number of workplace homicides occurred among workers aged 25 to 34, whereas the rate of workplace homicide increased with age (Table 3). The highest rates of workplace homicide occurred among workers aged 65 and older; the rates for these workers were more than twice those for workers aged 55–64 (Table 3). This pattern held true for both male and female workers.


Although the majority of workplace homicide victims were white (73%), black workers (1.39/100,000) and workers of other races (1.87/100,000) had the highest rates of work-related homicide (Table 4).

Table 4. Workplace homicides by race—United States, 1980–92*

Race/ethnicity of victims Number % of total Rate
White (includes Hispanic) 7,239 72.8 0.59
Black 1,938 19.5 1.39
Other 760 7.6 1.87

Source: NIOSH [1995].
*Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
†Per 100,000 workers.

Geographic Distribution

During 1980–92, the largest number of homicides and the highest rates per 100,000 workers occurred in the South (N=4,819; rate=1.02/100,000) and the West (N=2,278; rate= 0.79/100,000) (Table 5). Note that during the early years of the NTOF data collection effort, four States—Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and New York—were unable to provide data on work-related homicides. In addition, data for 1992 were unavailable from New York City and Connecticut.

Table 5. Workplace homicides by Bureau of the Census geographic region—United States, 1980–92*

Region Number % of total Rate
North Central 1,797 18.1 0.50
North East 1,043 10.5 .35
South 4,819 48.5 1.02
West 2,278 22.9 .79

Source: NIOSH [1995].
*Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
Per 100,000 workers.

Homicide was the leading cause of occupational injury death over the 13-year period in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Michigan, and South Carolina. Although complete data for the period are not available for New York, estimates and data for recent years indicate that homicide was also the leading cause of occupational injury death in that State.

In the document Fatal Injuries to Workers in the United States, 1980–1989: A Decade of Surveillance [Jenkins et al. 1993], all occupational injury deaths were analyzed for 1980 through 1989. Geographic differences in the leading causes of death were examined by mapping the State-specific, cause-specific rates in relation to the average cause-specific rate for all States combined. This analysis revealed that most (N=45) States had workplace homicide rates within one standard deviation above or below the average workplace homicide rate [Jenkins et al. 1993].

Method of Homicide

Between 1980 and 1992, 76% of work-related homicides were committed with firearms, and another 12% resulted from wounds inflicted by cutting or piercing instruments (Table 6). During this period, the number of firearm-related homicides declined then gradually increased, with the number of firearm-related workplace homicides in 1991 exceeding that in 1980 (Figure 2). The number declined slightly in 1992, but data for this year are incomplete. Firearms accounted for an increasing percentage of the total workplace homicides over the 13-year period: 74% in 1980 and 84% in 1991. Firearms were used in 79% of the workplace homicides in 1992, but data are missing for New York City and Connecticut for this year.

Table 6. Workplace homicides by method—United States, 1980–92*

Method Number % of total
Firearm 7,590 76.4
Cutting or piercing instrument 1,231 12.4
Strangulation 185 1.9
All other methods 931 9.4

Source: NIOSH [1995].
*Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.

Figure 2. Work-related homicides by method and year. Data were not
available for New York City and Connecticut. (Source: NIOSH [1995].)

Industry and Occupation

During the 13-year period 1980–92, the greatest number of deaths occurred in the retail trade (3,774) and service (1,713) industries, whereas the highest rates per 100,000 workers occurred in retail trades (1.6), public administration (1.3), and transportation/communication/public utilities (0.94) (Table 7).

Table 7. Workplace homicides by industry—United States, 1980–92*

Industry Number % of total Rate
Retail trade 3,774 38.0 1.60
Public administration 889 8.9 1.30
Transportation/Communication/Public Utilities 917 9.2 .94
Agriculture/Forestry/Fishing 222 2.2 .50
Mining 45 0.5 .40
Service 1,713 17.2 .38
Construction 335 3.4 .37
Finance/Insurance/Real Estate 327 3.3 .35
Wholesale trade 155 1.6 .27
Manufacturing 650 6.5 .24
Not classified 910 9.1

Source: NIOSH [1995].
*Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
Per 100,000 workers.

At the more detailed levels of industry (Table 8), the largest number of deaths occurred in grocery stores (N=330), eating and drinking places (N=262), taxicab services (N=138), and justice/public order establishments (N=137). Taxicab services had the highest rate of work-related homicide during the 3-year period 1990–92 (41.4/100,000). This rate was nearly 60 times the national average rate of work-related homicides (0.70/100,000). This figure was followed by rates for liquor stores (7.5), detective/protective services (7.0), gas service stations (4.8), and jewelry stores (4.7) (Table 8). The rates show an increase from the previously published rates for 1980–89 for taxicab services, detective/protective services, grocery stores, and jewelry stores. Rates decreased in liquor stores, gasoline service stations, justice/public order establishments, and hotels/motels; they remained the same in eating and drinking places.

Table 8. Workplace homicides in high-risk industries—United States, 1980–89 and 1990–92*,†

1980–89 1990–92
Industry Number Rate Number Rate
Taxicab Services 287 26.9 138 41.4
Liquor Stores 115 8.0 30 7.5
Gas Service Stations 304 5.6 68 4.8
Detective/Protective Services 152 5.0 86 7.0
Justice/Public Order Establishments 640 3.4 137 2.2
Grocery Stores 806 3.2 330 3.8
Jewelry Stores 56 3.2 26 4.7
Hotels/Motels 153 1.5 33 0.8
Barber Shops 14 1.5 4
Eating/Drinking Places 734 1.5 262 1.5

Source: NIOSH [1995] (data for 1980–89 from Castillo and Jenkins [1994]).
*Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
Rates are per 100,000 workers.
Rate was not calculated because of the instability of rates based on small numbers.

When detailed occupations were analyzed for 1990–92 (Table 9), the highest homicide rates were found for taxicab drivers/chauffeurs (22.7), sheriffs/bailiffs (10.7), police and detectives—public service (6.1), gas station/garage workers (5.9), and security guards (5.5). Compared with previously published data for the 7-year period 1983–89, these data indicate that rates increased more than two and a half times for sales counter clerks and nearly two times for motor vehicle and boat sales workers and sales workers in other commodities (includes workers in jewelry, food, sporting goods, book, coin, and other retail stores). Homicide rates for taxicab drivers and security guards were one and a half times higher during the early 1990s than they had been during 1983–89. However, some rates decreased: for 1990–92, the rate for hotel clerks was less than half the 1983–89 rate, and the rate for police and detectives was two-thirds the 1983–89 rate. During 1990–92, an extraordinary number of homicides (N=372) occurred among sales supervisors and proprietors, who had double the number of deaths in any other single category during both periods.

Table 9. Workplace homicides in high-risk* occupations—United States, 1983–89 and 1990–92

1983–89 1990–92
Occupation Number Rate Number Rate
Taxicab Driver/Chauffeur 197 15.1 140 22.7
Sheriff/Bailiff 73 10.9 36 10.7
Police and Detective—Public Service 267 9.0 86 6.1
Hotel Clerk 29 5.1 6 2.0
Gas Station/Garage Worker 83 4.5 37 5.9
Security Guard 160 3.6 115 5.5
Stock Handler/Bagger 189 3.1 95 3.5
Supervisor/Proprietor, Sales 662 2.8 372 3.3
Supervisor, Police and Detective 12 2.2 0 §
Barber 14 2.2 4 §
Bartender 49 2.1 20 2.3
Correctional Institution Officer 19 1.5 3 §
Salesperson, Motor Vehicle and Boat 21 1.1 17 2.0
Salesperson, Other Commodities 98 1.0 73 1.7
Sales Counter Clerk 13 1.2 18 3.1
Fire Fighter 18 1.4 8 1.3
Logging Occupation 4 § 6 2.3
Butcher/Meatcutter 11 .6 12 1.5

Source: NIOSH [1995] (data for 1988–89 from Castillo and Jenkins [1994]).
*High-risk occupations have workplace homicide rates that are twice the average rate during one or both time periods.
Data for New York City and Connecticut were not available for 1992.
Rates are per 100,000 workers.
§Rate was not calculated because of the instability of rates based on small numbers.

Bureau of Labor Statistics Data

Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) Program identifies the same high-risk demographic and occupational groups as NIOSH NTOF data and allows description of the circumstances of workplace homicides for the period 1992–94. According to the BLS data, 73% to 82% of the homicides occurred during a robbery or other crime, whereas only 9% to 10% were attributed to business disputes, and only 4% to 6% were attributed specifically to coworkers or former employees (Table 10). A shift occurred in the robbery and other crimes category with the creation of the new security guard in line of duty category, but the distribution of the circumstances has remained fairly stable during the 3 years in which data have been collected. The CFOI system uses multiple sources, including administrative documents from Federal and State agencies (e.g., death certificates, medical examiner records, workers’ compensation reports, and regulatory agency reports) as well as news reports and followup questionnaires to business establishments [Windau and Toscano 1994].

Table 10. Circumstances of Workplace Homicides—United States, 1992–94

Homicides (% of total)*
1992 1993 1994
Circumstance (N=1,004) (N=1,063) (N=1,071)
Robbery and Other Crime 82 75 73
Business Dispute/Work Associate 9 10 9
Coworker/Former Coworker 4 6 5
Customer/Client 5 4 4
Police in Line of Duty 6 6 7
Security Guard in Line of Duty 5 7
Personal Dispute/Acquaintance 4 4 4

Source: BLS [1994b, 1995], Windau and Toscano [1994].
*Percentages add to more than 100% because of rounding.
This category was not included in 1992.

The BLS described a number of the robberies as occurring while workers were locking up at night or making money drops or pickups, but these were not specifically quantified. Also, homicide appeared to be primarily an urban problem, with eight of the largest metropolitan areas accounting for nearly half of the workplace homicides in 1993 [Toscano and Weber 1995]. The self-employed accounted for 24% to 27% of the homicides documented by the CFOI program for 1992–94, whereas this group accounted for only about 9% of the workforce during those years [BLS 1993, 1994b, 1995].


Despite differences in data collection and the resulting total number of homicides reported by the NTOF and CFOI fatality surveillance systems, the ranking of high-risk industries and occupations is consistent, with taxicab drivers/chauffeurs, law enforcement and security personnel, and retail trade workers experiencing the greatest risks and the largest numbers of workplace homicides. Findings about the distributions by demographic characteristics are also remarkably similar [Windau and Toscano 1994; Toscano and Weber 1995; Castillo and Jenkins 1994].

Differences in leading causes of occupational injury death by sex can be attributed at least in part to variations in employment patterns [Jenkins 1994]. For example, homicide is the leading cause of occupational injury death for female workers because they are exposed less frequently than male workers to hazards such as heavy machinery and work at elevations. The same is also true for differences among industries in leading causes of death. Workers in retail trade, services, and finance/insurance/real estate are not exposed to the same kinds of hazards as workers in construction, agriculture/forestry/ fishing, mining, or transportation/communication/public utilities. These factors are extremely important to the future direction of occupational safety and health as employment patterns shift from traditional heavy industry to retail trade and service sectors. Workplace homicide must be addressed to continue the trends of decreasing numbers and rates of occupational injury deaths [Jenkins et al. 1993; Stout et al. 1996].

Elevated rates of workplace homicide among workers aged 65 and older may be attributable to a number of factors, including a decreased abilitiy to survive injury or the perception that such workers are softer targets [Jenkins et al. 1992].

Regional data for homicides in the general population show a similar pattern to those in the workplace, with crude homicide rates being highest in the South and the West [O’Carroll and Mercy 1989].

The percentage of work-related homicides attributed to firearms (76%) is slightly higher than that found in the general population, where 71% of the 1993 murders with victims aged 18 or older were committed with firearms [FBI 1994].

Changes in the risk of workplace homicide in specific industry and occupation groups between the 1980s and the early 1990s may be attributable to a number of factors, including increased recognition and recording of cases as work-related, changes in training or other work practices, increased levels of crime in certain settings, and the distribution of resources in response to perceived levels of crime. The shift in risk for public police officers and private security guards is particularly noteworthy, as the data indicate a decline in rates among public police officers and a dramatic increase among private security guards. We do not know the extent to which these findings are attributable to efforts among public police forces to reduce risks through training and use of protective equipment, the employment of private security guards by businesses and communities that had previously relied solely on public safety personnel, and the level of training and background of private security officers. However, further research is warranted.

The circumstances of workplace homicides differ substantially from those portrayed by the media and from homicides in the general population. For the most part, workplace homicides are not the result of disgruntled workers who take out their frustrations on coworkers or supervisors, or of intimate partners and other relatives who kill loved ones in the course of a dispute; rather, they are mostly robbery-related crimes.

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