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November 15, 2011
4 Types of Workplace Violence: What’s Your Greatest Risk?

It was allegedly a contentious divorce that pushed Scott Dekraai over the edge. On October 12, just 1 day after he appeared in court to ask for more time with his 8-year-old son, Dekraai put on body armor, armed himself, and went to the Seal Beach, California beauty salon where his ex-wife worked as a stylist. Dekraai opened fire, killing eight people, including his ex-wife.

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In his community, Shareef Allman was known as a likeable, “deeply spiritual” man. But at work, he’d been having problems. Allman reportedly believed he was a victim of racial discrimination. He’d had run-ins with the safety department, too—Allman had recently served a 3-week suspension for violating workplace safety rules.

On October 5, Allman showed up at the Lehigh Hanson Permanente Cement Plant, poured himself a cup of coffee, and began shooting co-workers who were attending a safety meeting. Three of Allman’s co-workers died.

Types of Workplace Violence

Workplace violence typically falls into one of four categories, according to the National Institutefor Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Different workplaces are at risk for different types of violence, so identifying the type your company is most at risk for can help.

Type I: Criminal intent

In this kind of violent incident, the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employee(s). Rather, the violence is incidental to another crime, such as robbery, shoplifting, or trespassing. Acts of terrorism also fall into this category.

The vast majority of workplace homicides (85 percent) are Type I violence. Your workplace may be at higher risk of Type I violence if your business:

  • Handles cash or drugs
  • Could be a target for terrorists

Type II: Customer/client

When the violent person has a legitimate relationship with the business—for example, the person is a customer, client, patient, student, or inmate—and becomes violent while being served by the business, the violence falls into this category.

A large portion of customer/client incidents occur in the healthcare industry, in settings such as nursing homes or psychiatric facilities; the victims are often patient caregivers.

Police officers, prison staff, flight attendants, and teachers can also become victims of this kind of violence. Only about 3 percent of all workplace homicides result from Type II violence, but this category accounts for a majority of nonfatal workplace violence incidents.

Your workplace may be at risk for Type II violence if your business involves dealing with:

  • Violent individuals such as criminals or those who are mentally ill, or
  • Individuals who are confined and under stress, such as airplane passengers who have been sitting on the plane for a long period of time or customer waiting in long lines for a store to open

Type III: Worker-on-worker

The perpetrator of Type III violence is an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens other employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace. Shareef Allman is an example of this type of violence. Worker-on-wrker atalities account for approximately 7 percent of all workplace homicides.

All workplaces are at risk for this type of violence, but workplaces at higher risk include those that:

  • Do not conduct a criminal background check as part of the hiring process, or
  • Are downsizing or otherwise reducing its workforce.

Type IV: Personal relationship

The perpetrator, like Scott Dekraai, usually does not have a relationship with the business, but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. The category includes victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work, and accounts for about 5 percent of all workplace homicides.

This type of violence can occur in all workplaces, but is most difficult to prevent in workplaces that:

  • Are accessible to the public during business hours, such as retail businesses, and/or
  • Have only one location, making it impossible to transfer employees who are being threatened.

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