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Physical Abuse in the Workplace

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If the prospect of physical abuse in the workplace seems a distant one, think again -- the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that approximately 572,000 non-fatal incidents of workplace violence were perpetrated against American workers in 2009 alone. Being aware of factors that create a higher risk for physical abuse in the workplace -- and which careers are the most likely settings for this violence -- can help you to mitigate this risk and create a safer work environment.

Recognizing Physical Abuse in the Workplace

Any unwanted or violent physical contact that occurs in a workplace setting might be defined as physical abuse. Slapping, hitting, punching and shoving are a few examples, as are acts such as rape, assault or other deliberate bodily harm. Physical abuse might result between employees, or be perpetrated by a customer, a client, or a family member or loved ones of an employee. They also can result from criminal behavior, such as armed robbery.

Who Is at Risk for Physical Abuse in the Workplace?

Certain types of work are more likely to result in physical abuse in the workplace, so employees in these jobs are at a higher risk. Law enforcement workers, social service workers, health care providers, public service workers -- especially those in inspection and enforcement roles -- and those who handle money or valuables are all employees who face an increased risk of encountering physical abuse in the workplace.

Factors That Contribute to Physical Violence in the Workplace

A few contributing factors in the workplace setting can increase the likelihood of physical abuse, even in supposed "safe" occupations. Working with the public, working in an isolated setting and working in places where alcohol is served can increase the risk of physical violence. So can less obvious factors such as working late night or early morning shifts, working on holidays and pay days, and working in areas where crime is a problem, regardless of whether the workplace itself is vulnerable to criminals. Gender is also a contributing factor, with men slightly more likely to be the victims of physical abuse in the workplace than women.

Preventing Physical Abuse in the Workplace

While the Bureau of Justice Statistics' findings indicate that workplace violence is on the decline, working to control factors that contribute to physical abuse in the workplace is still important. Creating policies that identify workplace violence and the consequences for employee perpetrators is an important first step, and should be followed with procedures that outline how to respond to incidences of physical violence in the workplace. Controlling factors that contribute to violence, such as limiting the amount of cash on hand, decreasing the instance that employees will work alone, creating safe, well-lighted environments where employees work and installing crime-thwarting devices such as physical barriers, camera systems and one-way mirrors can reduce the threat.


A writer and information professional, J.E. Cornett has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Lincoln Memorial University and a Master of Science in library and information science from the University of Kentucky. A former newspaper reporter with two Kentucky Press Association awards to her credit, she has over 10 years experience writing professionally.

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