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Workplace Violence


The horrible killing of the Virginia TV crew has once again shown that a) gun violence is inherently political, b) that the National Rifle Association is a front organization for murderers, and c) that we need gun control, which of course won’t happen. But it’s also a reminder of how common violence at the workplace. Errol Lewis:

A more fruitful discussion worth having is about the scourge of workplace violence, which the killings of Parker and Ward certainly was. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency, while workplace violence has dropped in recent years, it is still startlingly frequent. Nearly a decade ago, according to the agency, 20 workers were murdered every week. A more recent report shows the tide of violence declining, but as of 2009, 521 people were killed on the job and 572,000 non-fatal violent crimes took place, including rape, robbery and assault.

That averages out to more than 10 lives lost every week. Many of the tales are grisly: As CNN pointed out last fall, a fired UPS employee in Alabama shot two former colleagues to death before killing himself; a laid-off worker in Oklahoma went to his old plant and beheaded the first person he saw; and a traffic controller in Illinois set fire to his workplace and slit his throat.

And all those happened in a single week.

But there’s more because a sadly not surprising amount of this workplace violence is directed at women, as was the case this week. Dan Keating:

Many people work at dangerous heights, or with deadly chemicals or crushing equipment. But, as the gruesome killing of reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward reminded us Wednesday, murder happens surprisingly often on the job. Out of nearly 4,600 workplace deaths in 2013, 9 percent were caused by homicides, according to the census of workplace deaths by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s a pattern that disproportionately affects women. After car accidents, homicide is the most likely way for women to die at work, representing 21 percent of workplace deaths. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to die many other ways. Murders represent 8 percent of workplace deaths for men, preceded by car accidents, falls and contact with objects and equipment.

The murder threat for women is different. Both sexes die most often at the hands of robbers, and both also murdered at about the same rate by co-workers. But more than a third of women murdered at work are killed by boyfriends, spouses, exes or other relatives. For men, that category of killer is almost zero.

“When women are at work, their exes always know where to find them, don’t they?” said security expert Chris E. McGoey in a telephone interview Wednesday.

The 2015 AFL-CIO Death on the Job Report has more about these issues as well:


Workplace violence is another way that the national epidemic of gun violence affects all of us and it gives organized labor an entry into pushing for rational gun policies. I don’t doubt of course that advocating for gun control would irritate a good number of union members for which gun identification is more meaningful than class identification, but cutting back on the opportunities for gun violence is the right thing for working Americans.

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  • Marc

    I was suspicious of the way that those numbers were presented, so I went digging.


    93% of workplace deaths involve men (5300 men, 402 women).

    If we take the 8% and 21% figures, that is 424 men murdered at work, 84 women. So men are far more likely to be killed at work than women, although the mix of causes for those killings is different.

    • Ann Outhouse

      The chances of anyone getting murdered at work are tiny, but what the numbers say is that while more men than women are murdered, a random female worker is about 2.6 times more likely to be murdered than her male counterpart (21%/8% = 2.625).

      Other causes of death are irrelevant to this statistic.

      • Denverite

        The chances of anyone getting murdered at work are tiny, but what the numbers say is that while more men than women are murdered, a random female worker is about 2.6 times more likely to be murdered than her male counterpart (21%/8% = 2.625).

        No, to compare the likelihood of getting murdered at work, we’d need to know the total number of male and female members of the workforce (or male/female hours worked if that’s how you want to roll). The numbers you extrapolate from mean that OF THE PEOPLE WHO DIE AT WORK, women are more likely to have been murdered than men. But that could just be because so many more men die of non-murder causes. Men still could be more likely to be murdered at work overall.

        Or to use a simplified example, assume a population of 200 workers, 100 men and 100 women. Twenty men die at work; five of them are murdered. Three women die at work; two of them are murdered. So of the workers killed at work, 25% of the men and 67% of the women were murdered. But the overall murder rates are 5% and 2% respectively. So men are more than twice as likely to be murdered at work, even though a woman killed at work is more than twice as likely to have been murdered as a man who was killed at work.

        • The much higher risk of violence from family members and domestic partners invading the workplace is the interesting thing to me here. The overall numbers (the higher death rate for men and the higher proportional murder rate for women) are pretty clearly due to the disproportionate number of men in mining, construction, and manufacturing jobs (where you’re much more likely to die from an accident) and the (less) disproportionate number of women in retail and dining (which are particularly vulnerable to robbery).

          • Also delivery and truck driving. One of the linked pieces says car accidents, but I think the more accurate description is vehicular accidents. And that, of course, only counts the people who were working at the time they were killed, it does not account for the people who weren’t working when killed by someone who was.

            About five minutes after I saw about the murders I saw a tweet from Kristof talking about how many journalists were killed worldwide last year. It immediately pissed me off, because

            A. There was no evidence at that point their journalism had anything to do with their deaths,
            B. Implied was that their deaths were from principled commitment to journalism, which could then lead to “oh, it wasn’t that they were threatening power, it was just some workplace shooting,” as if that’s somehow less tragic or noteworthy. It also seems like self-congratulatory bullshit.

            Turns out I was right, it was premature to assume it wasn’t a variety of workplace shooting. And it would have been just as tragic for family, friends and colleagues of the victims had they not been journalists. And had it not been on TV live, it would probably have never punctured the consciousness of any of us on this thread, because it’s numbingly common. The Bureau of Labor Statistics even tracks specific cases of workplace shootings (410 fatalities in 2010).

            [As an aside, I don’t know if this is evidence of how common workplace shootings are, or if my family network is atypical. But the day it happened I immediately thought of a member of my wife’s family who was fatally shot on the job in 2011. And then, as I was writing this, I remembered about someone I knew when I was a kid, the son of a family friend, who went on a shooting spree in a suburban Detroit auto plant about 15 years ago.]

          • BTW, what’s not captured in those statistics are incidental deaths of men by men shooting because of a woman. Plenty of cases where the husband/boyfriend/spurned lover/stalker etc goes to a workplace in search of the woman of their obsession and in the process kills men. The family connection I mention above, iirc that’s what happened there, he went to the plant because of a woman, but in the process of pursuing her he killed a couple men who were simply at the wrong place (their workplace) at the wrong time (their normal work shift).

            It probably happens that women go to shoot a man and in the process hit bystanders, but my guess is the ratio as nowhere near even.

      • Crouchback

        According to Dan Keating in the article Loomis linked to:

        “There were 341 men and 67 women murdered on the job.” That’s for 2013. That’s about five men murdered for every woman. Given labor force participation is higher for men than women, that ratio may overstate matters, but the fact remains men are a lot more likely to be murdered on the job than women. However, I really don’t think this is a contest and I think it’s safe to say both numbers are too high.

        It’s funny but it seems easy access to guns is particularly unhealthy for men. You’d think the MRA crowd would support gun control.

      • joe from Lowell

        The chances of anyone getting murdered at work are tiny, but what the numbers say is that while more men than women are murdered, a random female worker is about 2.6 times more likely to be murdered than her male counterpart (21%/8% = 2.625).

        Not quite. The numbers say that men are more likely to be murdered at work than women.

        What the numbers you’re pointing to say is that women who die at work are more likely to have been murdered than men who die at work, who are more likely to have been killed by something else.

  • c u n d gulag

    Back in the early 90’s, after a whole slew of Post Office people murdering others at work, there was a really horrible “joke” going around:
    What does it mean when the flag as the US Postal Service is at half-mast?

    It means they’re hiring.

    Don’t ask me why I remember that, I just do.

    It was so cold and cruel a “joke,” that I still can’t forget it.

    • Becker

      And the term “going postal” still survives, though you don’t hear it as often as you used to. Letterman featured some very ill-conceived sketches featuring machine gun-wielding postal workers.

      Also, back in the golden age of Lifetime movies, an ex attacking a woman at her workplace was a common plot. People mock Lifetime movies for their women-in-constant-mortal-peril stories, but, Jesus, they weren’t far off the mark.

      Workplace violence is a feminist issue. Gun control is a feminist issue.

      • Keaaukane

        I had a hard time explaining to my then wife that the Lifetime movie heroine and boyfriend who drove over a hundred miles to kill the abusive husband were guilty of murder, no saving throw for heat of passion, battered women syndrome, or self defense. The movie did end with them convicted.

    • ThrottleJockey

      Gulag! What’s been up man? Haven’t seen you post in a while. How you been?

  • LeeEsq

    I really don’t see how getting killed by a relative or domestic partner at your workplace is any different than getting killed by a relative or domestic partner anywhere else. This is an act of domestic violence not workplace violence. Nor do I think it is necessarily any wise to treat violent crime at workplaces to be different than other violent crime.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      I don’t think Erik is talking about workplace crime as a separate category so much as he’s saying it’s a good reason for unions to advocate for gun control as part of a safer job environment

      • LeeEsq

        It can also be used to advocate for more security theater and violation of civil liberties. A safer workplace environment can be one that is tougher for everybody to get into and out of. I have to pass through metal detectors most days at work save the few days I don’t need to go to court. It makes for a worse society, not a better one. Let us be realistic and admit that a call for greater workplace security will most likely mean security theater and not with more gun control.

    • Ann Outhouse

      It’s hugely different, for a couple of reasons.

      One is that targets of stalking and domestic violence can often change their phone numbers and residences more easily than their jobs. As the article points out, it’s usually pretty easy for stalkers to find out where their victims work.

      Another is that in a number of incidents, the killer also kills or injures the victim’s coworkers.

      The causes may be the same, but the environment creates a different set of issues.

      EDIT: Adding, that most workplaces are at least somewhat public, and anybody can walk in or talk their way in or sneak in somehow. At home, the victim has more control over her security.

      • LeeEsq

        I’d argue that the reverse is true. At home, the victim has less control over her security because there is often fewer places or even no places to run and fewer people around to help. If the perpetrator gets in than the victim, is more screwed. While I realize that people often do not intervene in public, the ability and number of places to run is greater and the chances of outside help are also greater than if at home and alone. Many workplaces also have at least some security to prevent outsiders from getting in. These provide a barrier of sorts. Shops, restaurants, and other places of commerce and entertainment not so much but offices and factories yes. i admit that this is all intuitive rather than by evidence.

        Considering how wars on X crime tend to go out of hand in bad ways from a liberal prospective, I’d argue that government should not signal out any type of violent crime for special treatment. We do not want a repeat of the War on Drugs. Crime should be treated seriously but basically equally by law enforcement. A murder is a murder regardless of where it occurs, the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, and the motives for the killing. Murdering a business rival should and murdering a domestic partner should be treated the same by law enforcement and government. This is a very cold way to look at crime but we aren’t going to get rid of mass incarceration but saying that these crimes or victims deserve more serious treatment than those crimes or victims.

        • LeeEsq

          I’d like to point out that I know that people do not intervene in pubic from personal experience because I had a clearly mentally hill person hit me repeatedly on the head with a plastic bottle while taking out all her frustrations on me on a very crowded New York City subway train about two weeks ago. People saw what was going on and ignored it. It wasn’t necessarily the most dangerous situation in the world but it wasn’t a fun experience either.

          • King Goat

            “I’d like to point out that I know that people do not intervene in pubic from personal experience ”

            This is both pedantic and juvenile of me, but that made me chuckle.

            • LeeEsq

              I didn’t find it particularly hilarious but I want people to know that I’m not arguing solely from abstraction. An older African-American woman was upset at seeing a young African-American woman being affection with her White boyfriend and took it all out on me, the nearest available (and also the shortest and smallest “white” man) on the train.

              • King Goat

                It was the typo ‘pubic’ that made me laugh. Not the scenario described.

          • I have intervened before. To be specific, a guy hit his wife in a bus in Mexico when I was there last summer. I walked up and punched him in the back of the head. He tried to hit me and at that point a bunch of guys swarmed him and a bit of a brawl ensued. But better I get punched than his wife. So he could have cut me or killed me but what are you going to do, watch it happen? No. Fuck that.

            • LeeEsq

              Many people intervene and many people do not. It might be cowardice but I can’t really blame people from protecting their life and body.I’d like to think that I would intervene but I’m not sure how I would react though.

              • Nobdy

                A lot of times as a bystander, especially in NY, it can also be pretty confusing as to what’s going on. Violence incidents are often very quick and you need to process what’s happening and figure out who was the aggressor (if I see an older woman hitting a younger male I’m probably going to be assuming he was the aggressor unless I processed the whole interaction) and figure out what exactly you can do to stop it (I’m not going to punch an older woman in the back of the head unless she has a gun) and whether the person needs your help. By the time you’ve gone through all that the violence is often over.

                • LeeEsq

                  This to. I’m really just arguing that self-preservation is a very powerful instinct. Most humans want to die latter than sooner under normal circumstances. Most of us want to avoid bodily harm to. If there is no reincarnation or afterlife than the self-preservation instinct is even more important. I really don’t think that you can ask people to be a sacrifice if they do not want to be a sacrifice.

                • Good point on the processing part. I’ll add, things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years because of cell phones. It’s now far easier to immediately report violence, and even to capture the event on a cell phone. So for some kinds of altercations–a threatening situation, or someone being held but not necessarily being physically beaten or seriously injured, etc–it’s both safer for the would-be intervener and probably for the victim as well to call the police, who despite obvious exceptions, should be presumed to be better trained and capable of defusing the situation, or if necessary, to use force to end it.

                  [There’s a high school down our street, and a few years ago a fight broke out on a few houses away and it spilled in to our yard. I didn’t go outside because I had no idea if one or the other was a “victim.” Things have calmed the last few months after several of the main participants got killed, but we had a couple years of regular gang shootings, where the only victims were bystanders, as most of those hit were themselves perpetrators. So I couldn’t “process” what was going on besides there was a fight on my lawn. So I called 911, and the police raced down my block from both directions and converged in front of my house in about 45 seconds.]

            • Nobdy

              I don’t want to sound like a third grade teacher, but you might want to at least try using your words before you haul off and slug someone. I mean I get that he had it coming, but still…

              I find the most complicated situations of public violence to intervene in are parent on child. It is often socially sanctioned (though less and less so) and there’s always the concern that you will halt the violence in the moment only for it to be redoubled once the violent parent had the small defenseless child in a private place.

              • a) That’s real easy to say behind a computer

                b) I don’t speak very good Spanish so that wasn’t really an option

                c) No one thinks about what to do in that situation. You just do what you are going to do.

                d) The woman was very glad to get away from him.

                e) My only regret was not hitting him again.

                • Nobdy

                  A) I don’t understand this. Are you saying I’m being an Internet Tough Guy by saying I WOULDN’T hit someone as my first reaction?

                  B) That does complicate things, but you could at least yell “Para!” or something. Often drawing attention will at the very least shift focus to you.

                  C) I would hope that there is at least a little consideration before slugging someone in the back of the head, but maybe that’s because I have a traumatic memory of getting a concussion from being punched in the back of the head during a mugging.

                  D) I’m sure she was and I would never argue against intervention in a DV situation.

                  E) I guess you could carry a roll of quarters around with you so that the next time you punch someone in the back of the head you can really make it count.

                • You know, you can be a scold all you want to. I saw a guy hit a woman. I did what I felt was necessary. I’m not looking for approval. I don’t care what you think about it. I’m just saying that sometimes people do intervene. In my world, it’s called being a decent human being. I know that intervening in those situations is not for everyone and that’s OK. For me, I did what I had to do. And that’s the last I’m talking about it.

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  there’s a young guy at the co-op walking around with his jaw wired shut from intervening in one of those deals- *he* got sucker-punched by one of the guy’s friends. I tend to doubt he’s *sorry* he stepped in- if that was part of his makeup, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place

                • Right–I mean, I could have died there but it’s not something you think about in the split second when it is happening. Maybe I could have ended up on the streets of Mexico with a knife in me or be mobbed by the other people on the bus as being a guero intervening or ended up with a jaw wired shut. All of those things were entirely possible. But what are you going to do?

                • jim, some guy in iowa

                  never been faced with the decision (although upon thinking about it, I was able to calm down a couple of potential bar fights back in my drinking days). Like to think I’d run the risk. *Not* doing something seems like something I’d rather not live with

                • Yankee

                  you don’t know what you’re going to do, right. times like this you learn about yourself if you’re paying attention and into that sort of thing. I mean, into learning about yourself.

            • ThrottleJockey

              So he could have cut me or killed me but what are you going to do, watch it happen? No. Fuck that.

              I admire your heroism. I really do. That being said: Be careful. Domestic violence incidents are one of the riskiest situations cops face. Part of the reason for that is that its common for the woman being attacked to defend the husband when the cops try to arrest him, then the cops are tag teamed…And of course the woman might get it twice as worse when the bystanders leave–or when she eventually goes back home.

            • djw

              I was on light rail in Seattle a few years ago when a pretty deranged seeming man lunged at a teenage girl; about six people intervened before he could get to her. On the other hand, that was not long after this incident (15 year old girl beaten and robbed in front of a dozen or more people, including two security guards, just standing there.) So it’s a crapshoot, I’d say.

          • FridayNext

            I use to be a fairly frequently intervener. Right after college I lived with a bunch of guys in a house across the street from a bar. It was not an infrequent occurrence for fights to spill out into the street and also not infrequently these were men and women arguing drunkenly whether he did or did not look at another woman or whether she was or was not a slut. These often descended into violence. When we first moved in we intervened all the time from “Hey, I’m calling the cops” to actually calling the cops and even physically intervening by those of us who were not diminutive little weaklings. It never worked out they way we thought it would. If we threatened to call the cops we’d be told, by the woman more often than not, to mind our own business. If we did call the cops, the couple invariably will have made up before they arrive and tell the police there is no problem (and even when a woman told a cop that with a bleeding face, the cop would take her word for it) and the couple of times my friends would physically intervene (I’m a 5’4″ weakling, they were trained veterans from Iraq War TOS) THEY would be the ones getting cuffed and read their rights, not the original woman beater. Sadly, we stopped intervening in any way. (The final straw was when a cop came to our house after we called him on a particularly egregious beating. They made up and she defended her beater to the cops when they arrived. On this night, the cop shoulder his way into our house and told us that we should stop calling them about little stuff like this. They had more “real criminals” to deal with. He told us this while looking in our drawers and cabinets and asking “you don’t mind if I look, do you? You don’t have anything to hide.” The message was pretty clear.)

            Since then I have heard from friends who are either social workers or volunteers who worked with battered women, abused kids, and other issues of domestic violence that intervening is the last thing a bystander should do. While we may stop the violence in the moment, more often than not we are getting that woman or child an even bigger and prolonged beating later. I even got lectured to at some party by a woman who was almost angry to tears when I told her the above story. She told me what a heartless person I was and that we only intervened to make ourselves feel better, etc etc. I just stood there like an idiot not knowing what to do or say. I did a smattering of research and what she said has merit. (She was speaking from personal experience. Her worst beatings from an old boyfriend came after someone tried to stop him from beating her earlier)

            I have not been called upon to decide whether to intervene in over 15 years at this point. I don’t know what I will do, now. I am much older, and still a slight man with limited effectiveness in a physical altercation. I want to do the right thing, but at this point don’t know what that is. First, as other people here say, it can be difficult to understand what is going on in the heat of the moment and I know from experience the person who appears to be the aggressor might be the defender or even a third party intervener themselves. (That’s for adult on adult. With something involving children, this particular confusion is not the issue). I also don’t want to make life worse for the victim.

            The only things I can think of to do sitting here safely at my computer is to 1) call the police, 2) Separate all combatants regardless of who started what, and possibly 3) Record the proceedings for future prosecution, law suits, and restraining orders.

            PS: Of course, in the case of a child at immediate risk I hope I will intervene directly and forcefully. What I am talking mostly about is two or more adults. Of course, if it is just two assholes in a bar fight (or a Wal-Mart fight) my policy was always to let them duke it out.

            • mojrim

              Wow. That was quite something. A tour of my twenties, sadly.

        • King Goat

          “A murder is a murder regardless of where it occurs, the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, and the motives for the killing. Murdering a business rival should and murdering a domestic partner should be treated the same by law enforcement and government.”

          One problem with this, it seems to me, is the fact that, for example, wives are six times more likely to be killed by their husbands than husbands are to be killed by their wives. Facts like that suggest that, unlike business partner on business partner violence, domestic homicides are part of a larger problem of male on female violence in furtherance of patriarchal domination in the home and family.

          • LeeEsq

            This is all very well true but we also know that a lot of wickedness comes about from saying that this crime is really bad and needs to be treated very harshly or that victim needs more protection than this victim. My inner classical liberal and card-carrying ACLU membership kicks in at this point and argues for abstractly treating all victims similarly and not saying that any one felony is especially evil. I understand that others believe otherwise for good reason but I can’t really any good coming from this.

            Law enforcement regarding crime and criminal trials should be about the accused and not the victim. The only issue that matters is can the prosecutor prove that the defendant committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The victim should be irrelevant whether the crime is murder, car theft, or rape. This is the only way we can preserve the idea that people are innocent until proven guilty. When we make crime about the victim than we get over zealous prosecution, the violation of the rights of the accused, and mass incarceration.

            • King Goat

              But some felonies are indicative of deeply seated, longstanding forms of broader oppression, oftentimes which were not taken seriously at all.

              Of course taking a crime with broader social implications or which has beforehand been not taken seriously more seriously shouldn’t mean procedural protections for the accused are eroded, it could just mean that we 1. make resources available to the victims and 2. make sure they are taken at the very least as seriously as other crimes.

              • postmodulator

                The problem is that victims of domestic violence are treated as seriously as victims of other crimes, i.e., not very. I’m pretty sympathetic to David Simon’s argument that this is the drug war’s fault.

                I think there’s a certain amount of sexism in cops’ responses to DV cases, but if we’re waiting for cops as a group to develop social consciences we’re going to wait a long time.

                • LeeEsq

                  From what I read skepticism about domestic violence is much worse for same-sex couples than it is for heterosexual couples, which at least fits the traditional narrative.

                  The drug war probably makes the treatment of victims worst but it isn’t the only cause that victims are not taken seriously If you take common law preceipts about crime to their natural limit, everybody is innocent until proven guilty and it is better for ten guilty people to go free than one innocent person get convicted, the victim isn’t even supposed to be much of a concern. The defendant is supposed to the sole concern with the only issue because guilty or not guilty. Thus isn’t a very victim friendly environment.

                • @LeeEsq: Police skepticism about domestic violence among gay men had a particularly gruesome result with Jeffrey Dahmer:


  • witlesschum

    I think the best way unions can try to deal with workplace violence would be the stuff unions already do, trying to make them less stressful places in general. And bargaining for easy counseling.

  • ThrottleJockey

    But there’s more because a sadly not surprising amount of this workplace violence is directed at women, as was the case this week.

    Its rather odd to imply that the gay black man who was discriminated against by 2 specific people is guilty of misogyny for having shot 2 of the specific people he named in his discrimination suit. He’s certainly guilty of being vengeful, angry and murderous, but misogyny is big stretch.

  • It’s especially depressing to see that health care remains such a high-risk occupation for women. It really drives home the fact that:

    1. No matter how caring and giving and “good” a woman is, sexist shitheads will take that as a cue to abuse her, because woman as subservient caretaker her her natural role, amirite?

    2. A sexist shithead can have a woman stick him with needles all day long and still think it is a good idea to abuse her.

    3. Administrators continue to see abuse of certain staff members as normal.

    Yeah, the nursing shortage in the U.S. was a real shockeroo.

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