Murder and Violence in the Workplace

Murder and Violence in the Workplace

Murder in the workplace is the fourth leading cause of death on the job in the United States (OSHA).  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 521 workplace homicides in 2009 in the U.S. out of a total of 4,349 fatal work injuries.  This paper will discuss both murder and violence in the workplace and look at modern causes and solutions.

The statistics are staggering.  1 out of 4 workers have been attacked or harassed in their workplace.  Three people are murdered every day in the United States while at work.  Millions of dollars are lost every year due to employee absenteeism and sick leave because of work place violence.  With the instability of jobs today and the growing trend of shorter employment stays and transient work, huge pressures have been placed on the workplace which has resulted in more violence.

The causes of workplace violence and murder are complex and often convoluted in order to better analyze the situation three distinct groups can be looked at separately as we analyze the risk factors associated with workplace violence. The first group that has been identified as being most at risk is those who hold certain occupations.  According to a fifteen year study of on-the-job homicides in North Carolina (Williamson) taxi drivers are significantly more likely than those that hold other occupations to be murdered at work. The reason why this occupation is significantly more dangerous than others is that taxi drivers, “tend to operate in urban areas, which have the highest crime rates, and work long hours, alone, often at night, and carry a considerable amount of cash on board which makes them a prime target for robbery.”  According to this study the most effective strategy that can be employed by taxi drivers is that of target hardening.  Target hardening (McKay) is a term chiefly used by police offices and those working in security referring to increasing a person’s or environment’s susceptibility to the threat of loss, attack, or theft.  The most effective target hardening technique used to prevent the murder and threat of violence for the taxi driver is the use of a bulletproof partition between the front and back seats.  One of the reasons that so much focus has been placed on how to help the taxi driver as compared to other occupations is that the taxi driver is four times as likely to be killed on the job as compared to the next four most dangerous occupations.  The top five list of occupations where a person is most likely to be murdered continues at number two with private security worker, followed closely by law enforcement officers, retail cashiers, and retail managers. Another category which has a higher than average murder rate is the self-employed worker.  These workers may only account for 8.7 percent of the workforce, however they are the victims of 26 percent of all work related homicides.  The elderly self-employed shop owner is at even more risk and is almost twice as likely as a person under the age of 60 to be killed during a robbery if assaulted.

The second group identifier separates the murder of men and women who are killed on the job into separate categories.  In workplace disputes, men were much more likely than women to be killed by a coworker, while current or former spouses or intimate partners killed most female victims.(Williamson).  In a recent study of corporate security directors, domestic violence ranked as the top priority next to only terrorism (Solomon) with ninety-four percent of corporate security directors saying that it was of particular concern.  One of the reasons that corporations are so concerned about this issue is the recent view of the courts as to the liability of employers who fail to protect their employees from violence at work.  One example of a case where the employer has been found liable is that of La Rose v. State Mutual Life Assurance Co. In this wrongful death case the family of Francesca La Rose was paid a settlement of $850,000 for failing to protect her after her employer had been notified of the threat of domestic violence. This case is not unusual in the least, in fact the average jury award for inadequate security suits average $1.2 million and settlements average $600,000. In addition to these costs domestic violence itself costs corporations billions of dollars a year.  Thirty seven percent of women who are living with domestic violence report that they have been late to work, been absent because of domestic violence, and have lost a job or been passed over for a promotion.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the annual cost of lost productivity because of domestic violence is $727.8 million and more than 7.9 million paid workdays are thought to be lost each year.  The domestically abused also cost the employer through higher health care and mental care services with victim services amounting to nearly $4.1 billion annually in the United States.  One final category that is often unreported or underreported is violence between same sex couples in the workplace. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, “domestic violence between LGBT couples is often not reported due to the victim hiding their sexuality at the workplace.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists five categories of violence that commonly occur in the workplace.(Duhart) The first category is the “Emotionally Enraged” this is a person who attacks for personal or business reasons and this is often linked to trends in downsizing and streamlining.  A second category is that of the “Angry Spouse or Relative” this person may follow an employee to work and create a disturbance at the worksite. “Random Violence” is the third category and happens when violence is not focused on a specific individual.  Robbery and other commercial types of crime are linked to this category of violence.  The fourth category of violence that occurs in the workplace is that of “Violence against Law Enforcement” this category is directed toward police officers and security guards and includes violent activity that results from other incidents.  The fifth and final category of violence that occurs at the workplace includes both “Terrorism and Hate Crimes” these crimes are usually ethnic, religious, or racially motivated but also include seemingly senseless acts of violence such as the Oklahoma City bombing.

In addition to sorting categories of violence in the workplace, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has also composed a list of Characteristics of Persons who Commit Acts of Violence in the Workplace.  One of these characteristics is a history of violence.  This history often includes criminal acts, domestic violence, verbal abuse, and anti-social behavior.  Another characteristic that a person might commit acts of workplace violence is evidenced by the presence of psychosis. These individuals often show signs of being impaired in reality testing.  They can also possess an inability to evaluate the external world objectively and distinguish that world from their own experiences.  These individuals often are prone to senseless violence and have a total inattentiveness to the environment and are often grossly disorganized. Another type of psychosis that can affect the person prone to workplace violence is Schizophrenia.  This affliction may include hallucinations, poor insight, and bizarre behavior or thoughts such as having a feeling that someone is controlling them.  Major affective disorder is another psychosis that can lead to violence in the workplace.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that this type of psychosis is often present with delusions and hallucinations and is often mood congruent which is explained by delusions of poverty or disease.  The final type of Major affective disorder is characterized by the Paranoid states-Disorder which is manifest by delusions of grandeur, delusions of persecution, suspiciousness, jealousy, and resentment.  A third characteristic of persons who commit acts of violence in the workplace are those that have chemical dependence.  The use of these substances can push the addict over the edge and lead to acts of violence.  The next characteristic of potentially violent offender that is defined by the BLS is the person suffering from Major Depressive Disorder.  This condition if observed soon enough can commonly be treated by therapeutic counseling.  One out of seven depressed people will commit an act of violence against themselves or others.  Another category of the potential violent person is the pathological blamer.  This person accepts no responsibility for their own actions and instead blames others for their problems. The impaired neurological functioning individual that was hyperactive as a child, has had brain injuries, or abnormal EEG’s is often less capable of inhibiting themselves and can be prone to violence.  Much like the pseudocommando discussed in our textbook the “interest or obsessed with weapons” killer likes guns and military weaponry and poses a threat to the workplace. The final characteristic of a person who is prone to commit a violent act in the workplace is the person that suffers from personality disorders.  These personality patterns are inflexible, impaired and unhealthy.  These people have lost touch with reality and cannot be reasoned with.

This leads us to how to we can protect ourselves in the workplace. Due to the recent Tucson shooting the internet is awash with many ways that one should protect themselves during an incident where violence is likely to occur or is occurring (James). The first tip that is given by James is to beware of loners and psychotics.  The above characterization of a person likely to commit violence given by the BLS gives us a good start at how to spot people that might be prone to endanger us.  The profile of the workplace loner who has mental health issues, a previous history of violence or domestic violence, or one that talks about future violence or violent fantasies is of course someone to watch out for.  Though not politically correct it might also be a good idea to keep tabs on those that have extreme political and religious views or obsess about conspiracy theories. A second thing that we can do to protect ourselves is not to ignore threats. When a coworker threatens violence or says that they will take revenge on someone, the threat must be taken seriously and reported through the proper channels.  Who the proper person is to report matters such as this depend on the size of your company as well as if specific security or HR procedures are outlined by your organization.  When a person turns violent in the workplace it is best to not confront them and to have a plan of escape in case the person begins shooting.  Though most large workplaces have a plan in place that an employee is supposed to follow should violence break out, more than likely the person who came to work to kill people knows it better than you do.  Follow your own plan, know where you are going and have a plan to get to safety. This plan to get to safety can only be followed if you are aware of your surroundings and should be made with the knowledge of three things.  The first aspect to your plan is to know the quickest way out of the building from any point.  The second is what to do if a room or hallway is locked or barricaded.  The final aspect is to have a place picked out inside the building to hide in case there is no way out.  If you are in the unfortunate situation where you are under fire or the shooter is close make sure to not just stand still or head toward the sounds of shooting to see what is happening.  Implement your plan of escape and only once you have made it outside of the building should you call 911.  If you are caught inside the building and cannot escape it is best to not call 911 if you believe that the shooter might hear where you are and come after you. If you are caught point blank and there is no escape turn your palms outwards, slowly raise your hands, and attempt to slowly walk away backwards.  Studies have shown that many killers are less likely to shoot a person that has their hands raised and makes slow movements.  If however there is more than just a few feet between you and the shooter run away in a zig zag pattern as it is more difficult to hit a target that is not running in a straight line.  Finally if you are shot play dead, most shooters are looking for live targets and are not as concerned with shooting injured or dead targets.  Also beware of the police and SWAT team.  During situations such as this the police do not know who is a shooter and who is a victim, when you see the police put up your hands, palms out, and walk slowly away from the building.

In conclusion murder and violence in the workplace is an unfortunate aspect of modern life.  Some occupations are more dangerous than others, however through the use of target hardening people of all occupations can become safer. The five categories of violence are each very different and by using them we can differentiate between types of workplace violence.  The characteristics of a person who is prone to commit violence or murder is outlined and can be used as a good starting point to keep ourselves safer by being watchful of the people that we work with.  Finally it is imperative to have a good escape plan and to know what to do should violence occur in your workplace so that you either do not become a victim or so that you can minimize the tragedy.



Works Cited

CFOI. Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries. Web. <;.

Duhart, Detis T. Violence in the Workplace. U.S. Department of Justice, n.d. Web. <;.

James, Geoffrey. A Coworker Pulls Out a Gun. Now What? Web. <;load-section-river&gt;.

McKay, Tom. The Target Hardening Trap. Web. <;.

OSHA. Workplace Violence. Web. <;.

Solomon, CM. Talking Frankly about Domestic Violence. National Safe Workplace Institute Survey, n.d. Print.

Williamson, David. Taxi Drivers Most Likely to Be Murdered at Work. UNC News Services, n.d. Web. <;.



About criminality

Hello my name is Brandon Stacker and I am a graduate student at Wayland Baptist University studying Criminology and Business Administration. This blog deals with Criminal Justice topics that affect both society as well as the law enforcement professional.
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