NIOSH Report Addresses Problem of Workplace Violence, Suggests Strategies for Preventing Risks

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 260-8519 (O); (703) 323-7853 (H)
Monday, July 8, 1996

Some 1 million workers are assaulted and more than 1,000 are murdered every year — an average of some 20 homicides every week — in acts of workplace violence, according to a report released today by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The NIOSH report finds that workplace homicides increased in number in the 1990s after decreasing substantially in the 1980s. Homicide has surpassed machine-related injuries as the second most prevalent cause of death on the job, after motor vehicle accidents.

The report finds that the taxicab industry has the highest risk of workplace homicides, nearly 60 times the national average rate. Workers in health care, community services, and retail settings are at greatest risk of non-fatal assaults.

The NIOSH report, “Violence in the Workplace: Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies,” is the most comprehensive survey of information to date on job-related violence. It identifies factors associated with the risk of workplace violence, examines rates of injuries and deaths by industry and occupation, including comparisons over time, and suggests practical strategies that can be used to protect workers. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The NIOSH analysis finds that workers are most at risk if their jobs involve routine contact with the public or exchange of money. Workers also are at increased risk in situations such as working alone or in small numbers, working late or very early hours, or working in high crime areas. Only a small number of murders or assaults in the workplace are committed by co-workers.

“We as a society cannot afford to tolerate violence against working men and women,” said HHS Secretary Donna E. Shalala. “As we pursue the fundamental efforts needed to reduce the level of violence in society in general, we also must take strategic steps to protect Americans from violence on the job.”

“Violence in the workplace is a significant public health problem but one that can be addressed by recognizing the factors that put employees at risk and taking appropriate preventive actions,” said CDC Director David Satcher, M.D.

The report recommends that all workers and employers assess the risk of violence in their workplaces and develop appropriate prevention programs and policies. Preventive measures may include prudent cash-handling policies such as use of locked drop safes, physical separation of workers from customers, good lighting, security devices, escort services, and employee training. As a basic tool for formulating appropriate prevention policies, each workplace should have a system to record and document violent acts.

“No single strategy for preventing occupational violence will ever fit all workplaces,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H. “Employers and workers should develop and pursue the mix of actions most appropriate for their specific circumstances.”

NIOSH conducted some of the earliest research on workplace violence, and its studies have been instrumental in raising public awareness of this problem. The new report expands and updates previous studies by including data for the 1990s and examining trends for a longer period.

The new report also states that:

On-the-job homicide rates in the early 1990s increased over rates in the 1980s for sales workers, taxicab drivers, and private security guards. Rates for hotel clerks and police officers/detectives decreased. The changes may be due to factors such as increased recognition and recording of cases as work-related, changes in training and other work practices, increased levels of crime in certain settings, or distribution of resources in response to perceived crime levels.

By geographic region, the South and the West have experienced the largest number of homicides and the highest rates per 100,000 workers. From 1980-92, homicide was the leading cause of workplace injury deaths in Alabama, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Michigan, South Carolina, and New York.

Although homicide is the leading cause of workplace injury deaths among females, the majority of workplace homicide victims are male, and the risk of workplace homicide is three times higher for men than for women. Non-fatal workplace assaults occur among men and women at almost equal rates.

Some 75 percent of all workplace homicides in 1993 were robbery-related, compared with 9 percent in the general population. Although 47 percent of all murder victims in 1993 were related to or acquainted with their assailants, the majority of workplace homicides are believed to occur among persons not known to each other.

Copies of “Violence in the Workplace: Risk Factors and Prevention Strategies,” Current Intelligence Bulletin 57, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-100, are available from NIOSH Publications Dissemination, 4676 Columbia Parkway, Cincinnati, Ohio 45226-1998; tel: 1-800-35-NIOSH, fax: (513) 533-8573.

Page last reviewed: July 22, 2015