When people think of workplace violence, they tend to imagine scenarios such as those depicted in the 1993 movie Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas. They envision an emotionally unstable individual suffering from multiple personal and relational problems. When this person suddenly looses his job, he snaps, goes berserk, and sets out on a shooting rampage. Indeed, the phrase going postal came into being in response to several incidents of workplace violence involving disgruntled employees from the US Postal Service.

Although incidents like these do occur occasionally, most instances of workplace violence bear little resemblance to these heinous acts. However, violence occurs in the workplace much more often than many people might suspect. In fact, 1.7 million American workers are victims of it every year. This includes the 700 employees who die at work or on duty in the United States annually.

However, not all workplace violence is the same, and different industries suffer from different types of violence. Furthermore, some industries are far more dangerous than others. In the United States, most violent workplace incidents occur in the retail sales, law enforcement, teaching, healthcare, transportation, and security industries.

Yet, not all incidents are the same. There are at least five identifiable types of workplace violence. Each type affects industries, firms, and individuals differently. Moreover, each variant requires a different set of precautions and countermeasures. The five types of workplace violence are:

  1. Criminal Violence – This is by far the most common type of workplace violence and it includes acts such as robbery, theft, and assault. Fully 85% of all incidents of workplace violence in the United States are committed by criminals who have no relationship with the company or its employees. The workers most affected by this type of violence tend to be involved in late-night retail, security, or the social services.
  2. Customer Violence – When a client, customer, or patron is the perpetrator of violence, we classify it as customer violence. This type of workplace violence is generally rare; however, there are some industries that are particularly affected. Law enforcement, taxi drivers, health workers, and teachers tend to be at increased risk of this type of violence. Indeed, taxi drivers suffer from more fatal assaults annually than any other single occupation in the US.
  3. Worker on Worker Violence –This is when an employee intentionally harms another employee. This variant of violence accounts for 7% of all workplace homicides in United States. It has not been established whether this type of violence affects any given industry more than another. Rather, a firm’s risk level is likely to be driven by organizational culture and the individual mental states of its employees.
  4. Personal Acquaintance Violence – This is when a worker is harmed by a personal acquaintance who has no affiliation with the company. This type of violence is often an outgrowth of domestic violence, stalking, and/or a dysfunctional romance. As such, it tends to affect females far more often than males.
  5. In-Extremis Violence – This is when an employee is harmed by an extreme event such as a kidnapping or act of terrorism. This type of violence is rare inside the United States. The companies most afflicted tend to operate in austere and hostile areas overseas in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan.

Workplace violence is an issue that is subject to many misconceptions. Yet, it is a real threat affecting millions of individuals and businesses each year. Moreover, workplace violence comes in several varieties and affects industries and individuals differently. Over the course of the next several articles we will be examining the different types of workplace violence and identify the industries and businesses most at risk. Furthermore, we will delineate the steps firms need to take in order to lower the incidence of workplace violence.