Manual Violence in the Workplace

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Workplace violence can arise from a variety of sources, including domestic violence. As an employer, you have a legal obligation to address violence in the workplace that puts your employees at risk. The following four steps can help you meet your legal obligations and reduce the risks for workers. According to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation, employers must conduct a risk assessment if there is interaction between employees and persons other than co-workers that might lead to threats or assaults s4.

If you learn about domestic violence that puts your employees at risk, you must assess the risk and decide how best to protect your workers. Conducting a risk assessment for domestic violence in the workplace may be a complex process, depending on the circumstances.

Workplace Violence

A situation that appears to be of no immediate threat or danger to workplace safety may change over time. If the threat of violence is imminent, you should contact the police immediately.


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You must also take steps to eliminate or minimize the risk to workers — for example, secure the premises. When non-imminent threats exist, employers must establish procedures, policies, and a work environment to address the risk the Regulation, s4. Inform staff of a hazard as soon as it is identified. There is no duty to inform all workers, only those who are likely to encounter the individual in the course of their work. This may involve competing legal obligations that must be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

4 Types of Workplace Violence

If a violent incident occurs at your workplace, review your obligations under sections to of the Workers Compensation Act and s3. If a worker is injured in a violent workplace incident, advise the worker to consult with a physician the Regulation, s4. More information about each of these steps is available in the handbook and the legal obligations fact sheet see Resources. The term "domestic violence" describes a range of behaviours or actions taken by a person to control and dominate another person. It is characterized by abusive, coercive, forceful, or threatening acts or words used by one member of a family, household, or intimate relationship against another.

Domestic violence can enter the workplace when an abuser attempts to harass, stalk, threaten, or injure a victim at work. It can affect employee productivity, lead to absenteeism, affect workplace morale, and put a workplace at risk. Research shows that workplaces can and do make a difference in contributing to the safety and well-being of those experiencing domestic violence.

Being aware of potential signs of domestic violence can help you to take the appropriate measures to prevent it from escalating in your workplace. In addition to the resources below, please see our resource toolkit for to help you address domestic violence in the workplace. The purpose of this handbook is to raise awareness about domestic violence in the workplace. It describes the signs and effects, your potential legal obligations as an employer, and provides recommendations This is a personal video interview with Allen Sawkins, the surviving spouse of Tony McNaughton, who was killed when intervening in a domestic violence incident at work in Violence can potentially affect any workplace and any worker.

However, certain occupational groups appear to be more at risk than others. First of all, face-to-face interaction with clients, customers or others outside the work organisation increases the risk of violent incidents i. Typical high risk sectors include: education , healthcare and social work, public administration , transport and communication , and hotels and restaurants [4] [8] [6]. Also, shop workers and assistants, especially in those in the retail sector, are at risk. Young workers appear to be more at risk than older ones [9].

There is mixed evidence concerning the role of gender [4]. On the one hand, it is argued that because women are overrepresented in high-risk jobs, they are at greater risk of exposure to violence than men [3]. Many different factors have been suggested to influence the risk of violence in the workplace. The risk factors for workplace violence have been studied by various scientific disciplines.

The majority of studies on the antecedents of violence are not based on longitudinal, but rather on cross-sectional designs. The result of this paucity of research results in a limited degree to which causal relationships can be inferred. However, the available evidence highlights a number of individual, organisational and societal-level factors that have been found to be associated with higher exposure to workplace violence.

From a micro to a macro perspective, the identified factors relating to the individual, organisational and societal levels will be discussed. Apart from the demographic factors mentioned above, several individual level factors are believed to increase the risk of exposure to workplace violence: for example, lower levels of education and training, and shorter work experience [10]. Also previous exposure to violence [11] , inadequate conflict management skills [12] and low self-esteem [13] have been observed to be associated with a higher risk of workplace violence.

At the organisational level, a wide range of factors related to specific tasks or situations and the organisation of work in a broader context have been identified as potential antecedents of workplace violence. As mentioned above, face-to-face interaction with clients, customers or others outside the work organisation increases the risk of violent incidents. Especially those working with people in need of physical or emotional care, or with substance or drug addicted people are at greater risk.


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  • Other specific high-risk tasks and situations: including, evening and night work, shift work, working alone , working on location, handling valuables, exercising physical control over others, and specific physical design features of the workplace [2]. In addition, technological innovation, the organisational safety climate , physical working conditions and, in particular, the psychosocial work environment have been linked to the risk of being subjected to violence [2] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19].

    Conditions that may lead to higher stress levels in workers such as, interpersonal conflicts, role ambiguity, low job control, time pressure, low quality of teamwork and high workloads increase the risk of both external and internal violence in the workplace. It has been observed that the mechanisms underpinning these observed relationships may be different. For example, high strain work could directly or indirectly lead to lower job performance , which might evoke aggressive behaviour in customers, patients, and so on.

    In addition, the quality of health care as perceived by patients , including long waiting times and satisfaction with treatment, has been linked to violence risks. Fatigue or stress resulting from high strain work might undermine the conflict management skills of workers.

    Finally, workers may actually be the instigators of violent interactions due to anger or frustration caused by working under strain [20] [21] [9] [22] [23] [24]. A number of, partly empirically supported, societal or macro-level factors have been suggested to have an impact on workplace violence. These include cultural norms and values, individualisation, the embedment of violence in societies, globalisation, legislative frameworks , media-attention, and population density [2] [4].

    Exposure to workplace violence may lead to both physical and psychological health problems [3]. The physical consequences depend on the severity of the incident, and can range from minor injuries e. A review of 55 studies [25] on workplace violence found that psychological consequences include anxiety, fear, increased irritability, concentration problems, reduced self-confidence, sleeping problems, stress reactions, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder PTSD.

    Moreover, other reported outcomes include personal safety concerns, job insecurity , fear, lowered job performance , job satisfaction , affective commitment, intent to turnover, physical well-being, interpersonal deviance, and organizational deviance. These effects remain very significant when controlling for other individual, workplace and background variables occupation, sector, firm size, gender, age, tenure and country.

    Who Qualifies as a Vulnerable Employee?

    The psychological effects of violence differ from person to person, and may be dependent on individual perception and coping strategies [3]. Beyond the negative health effects, exposure to violence may lead to adverse job attitudes e. There were no observed differences for the majority of the health outcomes. Findings from the Fifth European Working Conditions Survey [26] also indicate that absence rates due to work related ill health are significantly higher among those exposed to different forms of workplace aggression. It should be mentioned that not only the severity, but also the frequency of exposure to violence has been found to determine the consequences for victims cumulative effects ; this both applies to internal and external violence [3].

    Also, co-workers that are directly or indirectly involved in violent incidents might also suffer from adverse health and wellbeing outcomes. In addition, the results of exposure to various forms of violence are likely to affect the relatives and friends of a victim. For organisations the costs of violence are related to higher sickness absence rates, higher turnover rates replacement costs and skills loss , reduced job satisfaction, motivation and productivity of victimised workers and their colleagues.

    Also, increased insurance premiums may result in economic loss for organisations [3]. For example, in a study of aggression amongst teachers, schools in which teachers had strong shared concerns about aggression also had poorer shared job attitudes and poorer student outcomes [28] Similarly, a meta-analysis of 36 samples found that mistreatment climate including violence, bullying and incivility predicted exposure to mistreatment, motivation to reduce mistreatment, emotional strains, physical strains, organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and turnover intentions [29].

    Work-related violence

    For society, violence at work leads to increased pressure on social services and welfare. Particularly in cases were violence leads to permanent disability of victims. No separate estimation was made for workplace violence, however. The societal costs include benefits and welfare costs due to premature retirement, long term absenteeism and disability, costs of unemployment, medical costs and the loss of productivity [4].

    However, the exact costs may vary from country to country, depending upon the national health systems, regulatory frameworks and the social services available in these countries. Interventions may also be classified as being primary, secondary or tertiary in nature, each serving different purposes.

    In primary interventions the goal is to eliminate or reduce exposure to violence. The aim of secondary interventions is to effectively manage violent incidents once they have occurred, and to minimise the consequences for the victims.

    How to use this information

    Finally, tertiary interventions focus on the treatment and rehabilitation of workers who suffer from the consequences of exposure to violence [31]. An overview of interventions at different levels and stages is presented below in Table 1. Chappell and DiMartino [2] suggest several strategies to tackle workplace violence. These include:. Evaluating the effectiveness of workplace violence interventions, a review of nearly interventions found that the vast majority of them were set within the retail or healthcare sectors [32].