NORMAL — Mass shootings, like the one at the Washington Naval Yard last month, grab headlines, but people might be surprised to know that about 17 percent of all fatal work injuries last year were caused by violence, according to federal labor statistics.
Thomas Fuller, an assistant professor at Illinois State University who teaches a course on workplace violence, wants to see companies do more to protect their workers from violence — including harassment.
“For a long time, they’ve just been saying, ‘It’s a random act,’” Fuller said.
But now the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is paying closer attention, not only to violence between coworkers, but violence directed at employees by customers, clients or other outsiders, he said.
“They have anti-violence guidelines,” Fuller said of OSHA. “They will give them a citation.”
Workplace safety includes more than protecting employees from dangerous machinery, toxic chemicals or radiation, he said.
In an average year, nearly 2 million workers report being victims of workplace violence, according to OSHA, which also said many cases are unreported.
OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassments, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.”
Fuller said people in charge of workplace safety “need to have a bigger role” and should work with human resources personnel and security officials.
Marvis Meyers, vice president of training for AAIM Employers Association, which has offices in Peoria and St. Louis, said she has seen a lot of training related to workplace violence for security and human resources personnel but not much for the general employee population.
Meyers is not sure why that’s true.
“There is an overall feeling, ‘It can’t happen here.’ That’s a mindset a lot of people have,” she said
But being unprepared for workplace violence can have “a very, very significant cost,” Meyers said.
She pointed to $20.5 million legal judgment against a Jack in the Box restaurant last month. A man was permanently disabled in a fight in the restaurant’s parking lot. The lawsuit claimed the restaurant could have prevented the fight and did not adequately train its employees.
Charlie Moore, president and CEO of the McLean County Chamber of Commerce, said the local chamber hasn’t directly addressed the issue of workplace violence, but the state chamber has offered training and education through “webinars” — Internet-based seminars.
Meyers noted that “violence is not necessarily just someone with a gun” and can include verbal altercations and harassment.
Fuller said more attention should be paid to harassment and bullying of anyone, not just those covered by anti-discrimination laws.
“We have the tendency is the U.S. to say, ‘Buck up. You can take it.’ That’s not a good way to run a company,” Fuller said.
Important first steps are to spell out what conduct is not permitted, to whom misconduct should be reported and how it will be handled, he said.