Dipping into workplace violence

Jeff Sparrow recently gained considerable media attention with his book that reflected on violence in society.  Yossi Berger once described occupational health and safety as a “kind of violence” in his book of that title.  There is a lot of research  into occupational violence, much of it from the United States which, to some extent, has an unrepresentative view of this hazard.

An interesting, and brief, discussion on the matter is a chapter in the book “Perspectives on Violent and Violent Death” published by Baywood Publishing.  The existential perspective of one particular chapter may make it impractical for safety management purposes but as a background article for provoking thought, it is very good.

Without this chapter I would not have found the work of C E Newhill* into client violence in social work or that of C L Charles.  Charles identified some factors that have contributed to the “anger epidemic” which may provide some clues on understanding occupational violence.   These are listed below:

  • Compressed time
  • Communication overload
  • Disconnectedness
  • Cost
  • Competition
  • Customer contact
  • Computers
  • Change
  • Coming of age
  • Complexity

These are useful elements to use when considering the health of one’s staff and employees.  The chapter, by Neil Thompson, proposes the following foundations to combatting occupational violence:

  • “It is important to invest in developing interpersonal skills
  • We need to base our understanding of the dialectic of subjectivity and objectivity
  • We need to develop skills involved in managing contingency
  • It is important to respect identity” [There’s that “respect” term again]

The OHS aim is to prevent violence and OHS professionals can often spend their professional careers achieving no more than an oasis of safety in a society of conflict and threat but to do even that is a phenomenal achievement.

Sometimes workers cannot avoid violence and in some occupations the risk of death is regrettably an everyday presence.  I was reminded of this when reading the excellent report into the deaths of 32 journalists and media workers who were part of the massacre of 57 people in the Southern Philippines on 23 November 2009.

This report led me to the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma where there was a very useful article posted on 1 February 2010 outlining what issues to consider when choosing a psychotherapist, particularly after a traumatic event.  It would not be difficult to devise a checklist from Elana Newman‘s article and I was particularly impressed by the questions she suggests are asked of the psychotherapist through the selection process.

Workplace violence is a massive area of study and management and not an issue that the SafetyAtWorkBlog can not do justice.  We note there are other blogs that discuss the management of the issue and, although many of them are commercial sites, much of the information is solid.

It is my strong opinion that workplace violence illustrates one way workplaces and employers are having to deal with the consequences of social problems.  It is from this position that I am often critical of those safety organisations that choose to avoid social safety issues because they are outside the “factory fence”.  Anyone involved in occupational safety and health has a heightened social conscience.  It is just that some turn it off when they close the office door.

Kevin Jones

* a podcast interview with Dr Christina Newhill from 2008 is available through the Social Work Podcast

reservoir, victoria, australia

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