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Is workplace violence really something to be concerned about?

Yes. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, somewhere in the neighborhood of two million people across the country, most likely including many here in New Jersey as well, suffer injuries at the hands of their co-workers, customers, clients or visitors. You may expect to hear about workplace violence when it comes to police officers and corrections officers, but the potential for violence exists in every industry.

Postal workers in decades past never would have thought that the prevalence of violence in their workplaces would coin a new phrase -- "going postal." Because the media outlets only tend to cover large, shocking and horrifying instances of workplace violence, you may be like most people who don't think this is really anything to worry about in your place of work. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.

What does OSHA consider workplace violence?

OSHA considers the following behaviors and actions when discussing violence in the workplace:

  • Threats
  • Intimidation
  • Verbal abuse
  • Physical abuse or assault
  • Homicide

Homicide? Really? Yes. In 2014, another person killed 403 of the 4,679 people who died on-the-job. This number does not even include those who were victims of the non-lethal forms of abuse listed above. You may now be wondering whether you are at risk.

Who does OSHA say should watch for workplace violence?

Anyone can become the victim of violence while at work, but there do seem to be industries and circumstances in which the chances are somewhat higher. Those include the following:

  • Volatile clientele
  • Monetary exchanges
  • Solitary workers
  • Isolated worksites
  • Graveyard shifts
  • Establishments serving alcohol
  • Care providers
  • Delivery drivers
  • Law enforcement personnel
  • Customer service agents
  • Health care professionals

In fact, anyone who works with the public may be at a higher risk for workplace violence.

What should you and your employer do about it?

Your employer may already know to make sure that your work environment is free from hazards such as falling objects, equipment failures and other potential safety risks, but it may overlook the potential for violence. Your employer should take the time to identify potential risk factors and do whatever is possible to mitigate them.

Policies regarding the prevention of workplace violence may be one way to keep you safe. Training sessions with employees, supervisors and managers may help you remain vigilant in order to identify potentially violent situations. Your employer should make it clear that any claims will receive prompt attention, investigation and resolution.

What if that wasn't enough to keep you safe?

Of course, even the best-written policies and procedures are not 100 percent effective. If you suffered injuries due to violence from another party, you may obtain workers' compensation benefits to cover your medical costs and a portion of the income you lost during your recovery. Other benefits may be available if appropriate.

Depending on the circumstances, you may also be able to file a third-party claim against the perpetrator or perpetrators of the violence. It may help to explore your legal rights and determine whether this would be a suitable course of action in your case.

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