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HITEC II STUDY – WORK ENVIRONMENT

Workplace Violence

“The Department of Correction shall provide its employees with a workplace free of intimidation, harassment, threats or violent acts. The Department shall investigate and provide appropriate resolution for each complaint relating to workplace violence. This policy shall cover all Department employees, contractors, subcontractors and vendors.”
— State of Connecticut, DOC Workplace Violence Prevention Policy

Introduction: Rates and Costs of Violence

Workplace violence occurs in many industries and job sectors and can result in both injuries and fatalities. In the U.S., approximately 50 percent of employers have reported at least one incident of workplace violence at their site (Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2006). In 2009, the U.S. rate of violent crimes at the workplace was estimated to be four per 1,000 employed persons aged 16 or older (Harrell, 2011).

At Department of Correction (DOC), inmate-related injuries constitute 15 percent of lost-time claims. Workers’ compensation data suggest that the fittest correctional officers (COs) appear to be at the highest risk of injury during inmate incidents.

What is Workplace Violence?

Workplace violence is defined as “violent acts, including physical assaults and threats of assault, directed toward persons at work or on duty” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH], 1996, p.1). Connecticut DOC defines workplace violence as “any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting. It includes, but is not limited to, beatings, stabbings, suicides, shootings, rapes, near suicides, psychological traumas such as threats, obscene phone calls, intimidating behavior, and harassment of any nature such as following, swearing at or shouting at another employee(s)” DOC Workplace Violence Prevention Policy.

Types of Workplace Violence

Violence can be classified into four types: Type I (criminal intent), Type II (customer/client/inmate), Type III (worker-on-worker) and Type IV (personal relationship/domestic violence) (University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, 2001).

Type II workplace violence (customer/client) is defined as occurring when the person who commits the act of workplace violence is either the recipient or object of service provided in the workplace by the staff (correction officers) (University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center, 2001). Within corrections, Type II workplace violence means assault by an inmate. If any of the behaviors listed above (DOC Workplace Violence Prevention Policy) is perpetrated by a co-worker, subordinate or supervisor, it is referred to as Type III workplace violence (worker-on-worker).

Risks for Workplace Violence

Below are some of the risk factors for Type II workplace violence (inmate related):

  • Poor environmental design, blind spots, etc.
  • Poorly lit corridors, rooms, parking lots and other areas
  • Overcrowded, uncomfortable settings
  • Inadequate security (alarms, etc.)
  • Working alone
  • Working when understaffed
  • Transporting and/or escorting inmates
  • Lack of staff training and violence prevention; inadequate management plans and policies

Some of the risks for Type III workplace violence (worker-on-worker) can involve individual (personal), organizational or situational factors such as:

  • Organizational injustice and unfairness
  • Lack of support from peers and supervisors
  • Authoritative and autocratic leadership
  • Lack of participation in decision-making
  • Low staff empowerment
  • Lack of clear perception of tasks, little job control and high job demands
  • Poor conflict resolution practices, along with lack of institutional policies
  • Organizational change
  • Incivility

Impact of Workplace Violence

The economic burden of workplace violence associated with fatal or non-fatal assaults affects organizations as well as victims, costing billions of dollars in terms of lost wages, medical costs, support costs, lawsuits, etc. (Chmidtke, 2011). Moreover, workplace violence has tremendous psychological and physical impact on the victims, their families and co-workers. Workplace violence incidents raise concerns among employees about the organization’s commitment to safety on the job (Beech and Leather, 2006).

Management and Prevention

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) provides guidelines for the prevention and management of workplace violence. Key elements of the OSHA guidelines for the management and prevention of workplace violence (included in the DOC workplace violence prevention policy) involve management commitment and employee involvement, worksite analysis, safety and health training, recordkeeping, review, and evaluation by the Threat Assessment Team and the Workplace Safety Review Committee.

Moreover, it is the policy of the Department of Correction to provide its employees with a workplace free of sexual harassment, retaliation and related misconduct (DOC Sexual Harassment Policy). DOC maintains a zero tolerance policy on sexual assault, actively identifying and monitoring any inmate who exhibits characteristics of a victim or predator (DOC Sexual Assault Prevention and Intervention Policy). This zero tolerance policy applies as well to co-worker sexual misconduct.

Safety Tips

Some basic safety tips for you to keep in mind to help prevent inmate incidents:

  • Be constantly aware of your surroundings.
  • Maintain professional relationships and boundaries.
  • Maintain a good working familiarity with safety policies and procedures. Make sure to report and document any workplace violence-related incidents.
  • Frequently check the readiness of your protective gear (gloves, flashlight, handcuffs, radio holder, key holder, duty belt, etc.).
  • Take advantage of all safety training and ask for additional training whenever you think you need it.

Some basic safety tips for you to keep in mind to help prevent and manage coworker conflict (Type III workplace violence):

  • Actively listen.
  • Be non-confrontational.
  • Be respectful.
  • If needed, seek assistance.

Useful Resources

References

Beech, B. and Leather, P. (2006).Workplace violence in the health care sector: A review of staff training and integration of training evaluation models. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 11, 27–43.

Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2006). Survey of workplace violence prevention, 2005. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/NIOSH. (1996). Violence in the workplace - Risk factors and prevention strategies.

Harrell, E. (2011).Workplace violence, 1993-2009: National crime victimization survey and the census of fatal occupational injuries. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Publication, Paper 809.

Schmidtke, R. (2011). Workplace Violence: Identification and Prevention. Journal of Global Health Management1,2.

University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center (UIIPRC). (2001). Workplace violence - A report to the nation. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa.