The rate of workplace homicides is declining, while the pattern of workplace assault has been “more volatile” and “erratic” on a year-to-year basis. Workplace assault continues to be concentrated in health services, social assistance and personal care occupations, according to a study by the National Council on Compensation Insurance Inc. (NCCI).
Released Sept. 2, 2008, the study is based on 2006 data—the most recent available—from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and from characteristics of claims associated with workplace violence, according to NCCI. The Florida-based organization purports to manage the country’s largest database of workers’ compensation insurance information.
While workplace homicides may get more attention in the media, they accounted for 8.7 percent of workplace fatalities in the private sector. Transportation accidents were the largest cause of workplace fatalities and most were motor vehicle accidents, the study found. Contact with objects and equipment was the second largest cause of workplace fatalities.
Among the findings from the study, the fourth in a series from NCCI:
- Workplace homicide rates were down 25 percent between 2000 and 2006, and were down 61 percent since 1992.
- There were 461 workplace homicides in 2006.
- Robberies accounted for 68 percent of workplace homicides in 2006.
- Work associates accounted for 22 percent of workplace homicides. Perpetrators were nearly evenly split between co-workers/former co-workers and customers/clients.
- Primary victims of workplace homicide are in occupations with direct customer contact, such as taxi drivers and chauffeurs and where cash or other valuables are accessible, such as cash register operators.
- Other high-risk occupations for homicides involve food preparation and related activities and managers of lodging and food establishments.
- Shootings were involved in 80 percent of workplace homicides.
- The number of assaults resulting in lost-work-time dropped 18 percent in 2005, largely reflecting reduced assaults among health care and social assistance workers. It rose 10 percent in 2006, also concentrated in the health care sector.
Workplace assaults have shown less of a decline than have total lost-work-time injuries and illnesses since 1999, but only represent about 1.3 percent of total workplace injuries and illnesses.
The rate pattern has been “erratic,” the report said, pointing out that the rate dropped 18 percent in 2005—the largest decline since 1998—then rose 10 percent in 2006.
Forty percent of the time, workplace assault takes the form of hitting, kicking and beating and for health care workers, this is “reflective of the sometimes-violent nature of nursing home patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and related diseases, as well as hospital patients who may ‘act out’ in ways that result in injuries to their caregivers,” the report noted.
In fact, workers in health care-related fields bear the brunt of assault.
In 2006, slightly more than half of such assaults occurred among those working as nursing/psychiatric and home health aides and healthcare practitioners and in technical occupations, personal care and service, and community and social service positions. The majority of victims were nursing home workers.
Other sectors where employees are vulnerable to assault include protective services and transportation-related occupations (14 percent), retail sales, and maintenance and cleaning occupations (8 percent).
The study cites the following recommendations from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for reducing workplace violence:
- Improve environmental designs: reduce handling of cash, increase physical separation such as with bullet-proof barriers, use better lighting, use silent alarms and surveillance cameras, and wear body armor when appropriate.
- Implement administrative controls: increase the number of staff on duty, review cash handling procedures, improve policies for reporting threats, increase education and training for dealing with violence, and improve medical support after an incident.
- Introduce behavioral strategies: improve conflict resolution and awareness of the risks of workplace violence.
Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.