There has been a relative explosion of research and articles on Workplace Violence throughout the world within the past ten years (particularly in the past five years), along with a corresponding increase in attention by various regulatory agencies, institutions, and governments.
In 2002, the International Labor Organization found that ''violence or harassment at work is being converted into a worldwide problem which crosses work, and professional group, frontiers.'' There has not only been a worldwide focus on physical assaults, but also on aggressive behavior in general, including bullying, mobbing, psychological abuse and harassment.
A 2010 poll by Reuters/IPSOS found that worldwide, 7% of workers had experienced actual physical assault - in a survey that reportedly only looked at assaults "made out of anger".
In one of our newsletters this past year, we discussed some of the progress that is taking place in Canada. With 17% of all self-reported incidents of violent assaults in Canada occurring in the workplace, Ontario became the seventh province in Canada to enact Workplace Violence legislation as amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. This legislation mandates that companies have a policy in place, conduct a risk assessment of each of its facilities, and develops a program, with specific parameters, to implement that policy, based on the results of the risk assessment.
Although Europe may not experience quite the same degree of fatal workplace violence that we have in the United States, it is still represents a serious concern that has been receiving increasing attention, with a recent study showing a 50% increase over a 10-year period, ending in 2005.
A 2006 ILO study found that within the EU, 2% (3 million) workers are subjected to physical violence from people within their workplace and another 4% (6 million) workers are subjected to physical violence from people outside their workplace.
Repeated studies have reported an overall European workplace violence rate of 5 to 9%, with Finland (15%), the UK (14%) and The Netherlands (14%) leading the way.
According to the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), 40% of European managers are concerned by workplace violence and harassment, but only around 25% have implemented procedures to deal with it - in many EU countries, not more than 10%. The problem is even more acute in health and social work and in education, with more than 50% of managers identifying it as a health and safety problem. Yet the response from organizations and national governments is widely felt to be inadequate.
A 2006 employee survey in the UK found that 16% of employees had been subject to abuse or violence just in the prior 3 months. 66% knew the person who did it, and 67% said that it had happened more than once.
As the EU-OSHA report notes, this data and effective response is hampered by a reticence to report. For example, 65% of the respondents in a French survey stated that they would be afraid to report any incidents of workplace violence, doubting that there would be a just and adequate response from management.
In Korea, the Korean Herald reported a survey last year that found that 12.2% of employees had actually been physically assaulted in their office, mostly by bosses "venting their stress."
In the above-mentioned Reuters/Ipsos report that looked specifically at anger-based physical assaults, a shocking 25% of workers in India reported that they were the victim of physical assault by a co-worker or manager.
Health care workers experience one of the highest rates of violence worldwide. In a study and report prepared jointly by International Labor Office, the International Council of Nurses, the World Health Organization, and Public Services International, 50% of health care workers in Australia, 61.9% in South Africa, 57.93% in China, 54% in Thailand, 41% in Lebanon, and 46% in Brazil reported experiencing some form of workplace violence in the previous 12 months.
The evidence is clear that no continent and no country is immune to this phenomena of aggression in the workplace, and it appears to be significantly escalating, for whatever reason. Concomitantly, there has been increasing awareness and attention to this, with accompanying oversight and legislation, but this varies and is rarely at a sufficient level, at least up to this point.
Regardless of what is occurring at a national or local level in any country, an employer has some responsibility for the safety of its employees while they are at work, and given the research and attention recently given to this problem, no one can now say that they were not prepared.
Marc McElhaney, Ph.D.