Violence Second Leading Cause of Preventable Death Among Government Workers

Since public sector workers face unique hazards, addressing violence in the workplace is key to a safe work environment.

October 29, 2018

On top of the inherent stress and physical hazards of serving the public, many in the public sector also face intense hazing, bullying and harassment in the performance of their jobs. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration classifies bullying as a traumatic event, and the Workplace Bullying Institute indicates 60.4 million people are affected by bullying in the workplace. This represents 38.4% of the nation’s workforce.

Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows injury incident rates for local and state government workers are significantly higher than those for workers in other industries. While government workers make up only 13.4% of the workforce, they sustained 19.6% of the injuries in 2016, according to NSC estimates.

It is reasonable to suggest that the same government workers over-represented in the data with regard to physical injuries also are over-represented with regard to workplace violence and bullying. In fact, violence is a leading cause of death among government workers, second only to transportation incidents.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health classifies perpetrators of workplace violence in four ways:

  • No legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence (robbery, shoplifting, trespassing)
  • A customer/client relationship with the target
  • A subordinate, colleague or supervisor of the target
  • A family member or domestic partner of an employee

CareerCast recently identified the most stressful occupations in the country. Three of the top five at-risk jobs for stress include police officers, firefighters and enlisted members of the military – all predominantly public sector occupations. Workplace violence and harassment cause an added level of job stress, which puts workers at a higher risk for health problems, like high blood pressure, insomnia and chronic sleep deprivation.

Public sector safety professionals can help create safer work environments by providing policies, training and procedures to address bullying, harassment and violence in the workplace:

  • Inform new employees about the importance of a respectful workplace as a core component of the organization’s culture
  • Establish clear policies that make bullying a violation of the organizational safety policy
  • Add training on bullying, harassment and violence prevention to the health and safety training programs
  • Work with human resources professionals and employee organizations to create support systems for employees that have been the targets of bullying and harassment from perpetrators outside the workplace, to help the workplace become a safe haven for affected workers
  • Establish, train and provide resources for peer support teams at all levels to help address behavioral health issues
  • Make abusive behavior in the workplace a relic of the past by supporting efforts such as the creation of a Healthy Workplace Bill

Employers must recognize and address emotional trauma that might result from workplace violence and make sure each worker can enjoy a place of employment free from behaviors or hazards that are likely to cause stress, serious physical harm or death.

I. David Daniels

I. David Daniels is Chair of the NSC Government and Public Sector Division and an affiliate of the Workplace Bullying Institute.

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