Workplace violence

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Nurses describe their experience as victims of, or as witnesses of, violence in the workplace

Workplace violence (WPV) or occupational violence refers to violence, usually in the form of physical abuse or threat, that creates a risk to the health and safety of an employee or multiple employees.[1]


According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011 violence and other injuries caused by persons or animals contributed to 17% of all US occupational fatalities, with homicides contributing to 10% of the total.[2] From 1992 to 2010, there were 13,827 reported workplace homicide victims, averaging over 700 victims per year, in the United States.[3] Examination of the 2011 data shows that while a majority of workplace fatalities occurred to males, workplace violence disproportionately affects females. Homicides contributed to 21% of all occupational fatalities for women, compared to 9% for men.[2] Of these homicides, relatives or domestic partners contributed to 39% of female homicide cases; male homicide cases were most likely to be perpetrated by robbers, contributing to 36% of male homicide cases.[2]

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") a department of the United States Department of Labor defines workplace violence as "any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide." [4]

2,000,000 US workers per year report workplace violence[4]

Most cases of workplace violence are non-fatal. From 1993 to 1999, an average of about 1.7 million people reported occupational violence.[3] About 75% of these cases are considered simple assault, while 19% of cases are considered aggravated assault.[3]

Workplace violence is at epidemic proportions. "There used to be a time when an employee shooting someone in the workplace would be a shock. Now it’s becoming common.” states Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq. a researcher and expert on workplace violence prevention. [5]

Following a June 2017 shooting spree when a former employee returned to his Orlando, Florida workplace to murder five co-workers before committing suicide Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq. stated “You hear it again and again. People always say ‘We didn’t think it (workplace violence) would happen here,’ but it can happen anywhere and anytime. It shouldn’t be a question of if; employers should operate under the question of when.” [6]

Deadly examples[edit]

  • Patrick Henry Sherrill, a 44-year-old mail carrier from Edmond, Oklahoma, was reprimanded after a heated argument with two supervisors on August 19, 1986. At approximately 7:00 the following morning, Sherrill showed up at the post office in his uniform. Over the course of the next 15 minutes, Sherrill went on a murderous rampage, gunning down any employee who crossed his path. After sealing off the exits, Sherrill ended up murdering fourteen coworkers and wounding six others. When police arrived at the post office, Sherrill turned the gun on himself.[7]
  • On November 5, 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan, who was serving in the United States Army as a psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others at Fort Hood, near Killeen, Texas. The shooting produced more casualties than any other on an American military base. The United States Department of Defense and federal law enforcement agencies have classified the shootings as an act of workplace violence.[8] In February 2015, the Army "determined that there was sufficient evidence to conclude Hasan “was in communication with [a] foreign terrorist organization before the attack,” and that his radicalization and subsequent acts could reasonably be considered to have been “inspired or motivated by the foreign terrorist organization.”[9]
  • David Burke was employed by USAir as a ticket agent until his supervisor, Raymond Thompson, fired him for theft. After Thompson refused to reinstate him, Burke showed up at Los Angeles International Airport on December 7, 1987, and purchased a ticket for Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771 to San Francisco International Airport. Burke smuggled a .44 Magnum onto the aircraft. Shortly after takeoff, the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder picked up the sound of gunshots. Then came the sound of David Burke’s voice. The pilots were shot and the aircraft crashed into a hillside in San Luis Obispo County, killing all 43 people on board, including Burke and Thompson. At the crash site, an airsickness bag was found containing a message which Burke had written for his former supervisor. It read: “I asked for some leniency for my family, remember. Well, I got none. And you’ll get none.”[10]
  • At 6:45 a.m. on August 26, 2015, 41-year-old Vester Lee Flanagan, a disgruntled ex-reporter for Roanoke station WDBJ-TV, shot and killed two former colleagues live on television in Moneta, Virginia. At the time, 24-year-old WDBJ reporter Alison Parker was conducting an interview of local chamber of commerce executive Vicki Gardener as 27-year-old videographer Adam Ward filmed the interview on a live feed. Flanagan, who had been previously terminated from his position at WDBJ, captured the three via a body cam and appeared to wait until the piece was airing before he began shooting and emptied his Glock handgun of all bullets. Gardener who was also shot survived the attack. After the shootings, Flanagan fled the scene and later boasted about the attack on social media before he was killed by police.[11]
  • On December 2, 2015, county health inspector Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, burst into a banquet room in San Bernardino, California where approximately 80 of Farook's co-workers were gathered to attend a holiday party as well as a company training session. Farook and Malik, who were dressed in military-style attire and armed with rifles, killed 14 people and injured 22 others. The couple also attempted to bomb the facility. Later, they were killed in a shoot-out with police.[12][13]
  • On February 26, 2016, 38-year old Cedric Ford who was employed as a painter at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas shot and killed three people and injured 14 other people. A co-worker reported that approximately two hours after the two men had clocked in for their shift at work that day, he saw Ford strapped up with his weapon and shooting at people in the factory's parking lot.[12]
  • On March 20, 2016, a 55-year-old retired state trooper with the Pennsylvania Turnpike system named Clarence Briggs of Newville, Pennsylvania returned to the roads he used to patrol prior to his retirement and attempted an armed robbery at a toll booth. Briggs shot and killed toll booth worker Danny Crouse, 55, and Ron Heist, 72, a security guard before he was shot and killed by the authorities.[12][14]
  • On April 8, 2016, workplace violence erupted at Lackland Airforce Base in San Antonio, Texas. At that time, the squadron's commanding officer was shot and killed by an airman who then killed himself. Thereafter, the facility went into lockdown mode. Soon after the shootings, it was reported that the incident was not a case involving terrorism but was workplace violence.[15] The shooter was being escorted to a disciplinary hearing when he committed the murder-suicide.[16]
  • On May 4, 2016, a man who had been involuntarily terminated two weeks earlier from his position at Knight Transportation in Katy, Texas approximately 20 miles west of Houston returned to his former workplace armed with a shotgun and a pistol. Marion Guy Williams, 65, was reported to have said words to the effect of "You all ruined my life." Williams then shot and killed a 34-year-old supervisor Michael Dawid, injured two other employees and then killed himself.[17][18]
  • On June 8, 2017 a grocery story employee named Randy Stair age 24 blocked all entrance/exits to the Weis Market in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania where he was employed and opened fire. Stair killed three co-workers before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide. Dating back to July 2016, Stair left behind a cache of disturbing and violent images, cartoons, videos, and messages on-line for the world to view on his social media accounts. Amongst other things, Stair posted numerous images of himself with his shotguns. He went so far as to name them "the twins" and is even seen caressing and kissing one. In one of his videos Stair proclaims “All souls are fair game.” Stair who idolized the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
  • On April 3, 2018, Nasim Najafi Aghdam opened fire on her co-workers at Youtube headquarters in San Bruno, California, killing herself and sending 3 others to the hospital. Police describe it as workplace violence.


Dr. Arnold H. Buss, of the University of Texas at Austin (1961),[19] identified eight types of workplace aggression:

  • Verbal-passive-indirect (failure to deny false rumors about target, failure to provide information needed by target)[11]
  • Verbal-passive-direct ("silent treatment", failure to return communication, i.e. phone calls, e-mails)
  • Verbal-active-indirect (spreading false rumors, belittling ideas or work)
  • Verbal-active-direct (insulting, acting condescendingly, yelling)
  • Physical-passive-indirect (causing others to create a delay for the target)
  • Physical-passive-direct (reducing target's ability to contribute, e.g. scheduling them to present at the end of the day where fewer people will be attending)
  • Physical-active-indirect (theft, destruction of property, unnecessary consumption of resources needed by the target)
  • Physical-active-direct (physical attack, nonverbal, vulgar gestures directed at the target)

In a study performed by Baron and Neuman,[20] researchers found pay cuts and pay freezes, use of part-time employees, change in management, increased diversity, computer monitoring of employee performance, reengineering, and budget cuts were all significantly linked to increased workplace aggression. The study also showed a substantial amount of evidence linking unpleasant physical conditions (high temperature, poor lighting) and high negative affect, which facilitates workplace aggression.[21] Individuals who resort to mass shootings at work often threaten to kill before any actual violence takes place.[22]

Risk assessments[edit]

In the United Kingdom there is a legal obligation to complete risk assessments for both physical and psychosocial workplace hazards. Other countries have similar occupational health and safety legislation in place relating to identifying and either eliminating or controlling for hazards in the workplace. Workplace violence is considered to be a significant hazard in its own right. Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that, “every employer shall make a suitable and sufficient assessment of:

  • The risks to the health and safety of his (or her) employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work; and
  • The risks to the health and safety of persons not in his employment arising out of or in connection with the conduct of him or his undertaking".

Occupational groups at higher risk[edit]

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety lists the following higher risk occupations.[23]

  • Healthcare workers
  • Correctional officers
  • Social Services workers
  • Teachers
  • Municipal housing inspectors
  • Public Works Employees
  • Retail Workers
  • Police Officers

Health care workers are at high risk for experiencing violence in the workplace. Examples of violence include threats, physical assaults, and muggings. According to estimates of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work was 15.1 per 10,000 full-time workers in 2012.[24] This rate is much higher than the rate for total private industries, which is 4.0 per 10,000 full-time workers.

Monitoring workplace violence trends is essential to identifying targeted prevention strategies. The Occupational Health Safety Network (OHSN) is a secure electronic surveillance system developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to address health and safety risks among health care personnel. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities can upload the occupational injury data they already collect to the secure database for analysis and benchmarking with other de-identified facilities. NIOSH works with OHSN participants in identifying and implementing timely and targeted interventions. OHSN modules currently focus on three high risk and preventable events that can lead to injuries or musculoskeletal disorders among healthcare personnel: musculoskeletal injuries from patient handling activities; slips, trips, and falls; and workplace violence. OHSN enrollment is open to all healthcare facilities.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Occupational Violence". WorkSafe. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 2011" (PDF). US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  3. ^ a b c "CDC - Occupational Violence - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topic". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  4. ^ a b Source:
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Lamar Jr, Jacob V. (June 24, 2001). ""Crazy Pat's" Revenge". Time.
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Magnuson, Ed (June 24, 2001). "David Burke's Deadly Revenge". Time.
  11. ^ a b "Three keys to reducing workplace violence risks". Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  12. ^ a b c "The Growing Epidemic of Deadly Workplace Violence and Three Ways to Prevent It -- Occupational Health & Safety". Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  13. ^ CNN, Steve Almasy, Kyung Lah and Alberto Moya. "14 killed in San Bernardino shooting; suspect ID'd". CNN. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  14. ^ "Retired state trooper kills two in Pennsylvania toll plaza shooting". Reuters. 2016-03-21. Retrieved 2016-05-09.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Buss, AH (1961). The Psychology of Aggression.
  20. ^ Baron, RA; Neuman, HA. "Workplace violence and workplace aggression: Evidence on their relative frequency and potential causes". Aggressive Behavior. 22: 161–173. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1098-2337(1996)22:3<161::AID-AB1>3.0.CO;2-Q.
  21. ^ Workplace Violence and Workplace Aggression: Evidence and Their Relative Frequency and Potential Causes., retrieved February 24, 2009
  22. ^ Lee, Seungmug; McCrie, Robert (2012). "Mass Homicides by Employees in the American Workplace" (PDF).
  23. ^ Violence in the Workplace, retrieved May 8, 2008
  24. ^ Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonfatal Occupational Injuries and Illnesses Requiring Days Away from Work, 2012. Retrieved March 13, 2014.

External links[edit]