Most people are aware, I think, of the on-the-job accidents that have killed or maimed millions of workers. But they may not be aware that on-the-job violence also afflicts millions of workers. Every year, almost two million Americans are the victims of violent crimes at their workplaces. That often forces the victims to stay off work for a week or more. And it costs their employers more than sixty billion dollars a year in lost productivity. The violence ranges all the way up to murder.
But the violence isn't all physical. It also includes verbal or written abuse and threatening behavior. Women have been especially victimized. At least 30 thousand women a year are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted while at work.
The workers most subject to violence include convenience store clerks and other retail workers, bus and delivery truck drivers, cab drivers, and others who exchange money with the public. Also high on the list of victims are police, security guards, water meter readers and other utility workers, telephone and cable TV installers, flight attendants, teachers and employees of nursing homes, mental health facilities and prisons.
Unions have been pushing for recognition of workplace violence as an occupational issue as well as criminal justice issue. That would put it under the purview of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- OSHA -- and state job safety agencies. They could then issue enforceable regulations aimed at reducing the on-the-job dangers of violence, just as they do for other dangerous working conditions. Unions also are pressing employers to meanwhile voluntarily implement violence prevention programs. Only about one-fourth have done so. But unions are offering to help the other employers develop programs.
We have state and federal rules designed to protect workers from many on-the-job hazards. Yet we have generally failed to lay down firm guidelines for protecting workers from one of the most dangerous hazards of all -- the danger of violence. It's time we did something about that.