Workplace violence commonplace, speaker says

Although it is statistically one of the most non-violent places, violence and abuse is prevalent in the workplace.

This was the topic of a lecture given by psychology professor Paul Spector’s about the potential for abuse in the workplace, and his study of patient conduct at a veterans administration medical center in the TECO room of the Education Building on Wednesday.

“About 5 percent of homicides that occur happen at work,” Spector said. “Work is probably the safest place you can be in terms of being murdered. In terms of calculated risk, it is safer to be at work than to drive to work. While workplace homicide is rare, workplace non-fatal violence is extremely common.”

Spector conducts his studies using employee surveys, checklists of altercations between co-workers and a calculation of both workplace and personal factors. For physical abuse, he said some of the most commonly observed behaviors were co-workers being either hit, pushed, spat on, choked, kicked and/or threatened with violence.

In Spector’s research of a VA medical center, he surveyed 198 nurses in a variety of departments on incidents of both verbal and physical abuse.

Results of the study showed there were 17 different types of abuse reported, from workers being yelled or sworn at to being raped or sexually assaulted. Spector also mentioned one reported case of a nurse who was injured so severely, she was unable to return to work. Her injury was not specified in the report, Spector said.

The 198 nurses reported 56 cases of physical abuse and 115 cases of verbal abuse. Patients committed an overwhelming percentage of the incidents, Spector said, and co-workers or supervisors committed only 9 percent of physical abuse cases and 33 percent of verbal abuse incidents.

“Workplace verbal aggression – which does have a negative impact on people – is common in all jobs,” Spector said. “We think our studies will indirectly affect change in the workplace to help prevent violence, simply by the awareness of the issue.”

Spector has been studying the existence of workplace violence since being a graduate student in 1974, and he said some changes have occurred over time.

“Though we don’t know of varying trends of violence over the years, the main thing that has changed is the social awareness of the problem. Back then, workplace violence wasn’t as well known, but today the issue has become much more clear.”

At the presentation, one USF student offered her opinion on the problem.

“At work, I have not personally noticed any physical violence,” said Abby Lukacs, a junior biology major. “But I have noticed more verbal abuse between males and females. At school, there is much more abusive behavior than at work, especially while driving. There is a lot of aggression on the roads, from driving and parking on campus. Food lines are also very aggressive. In the classroom, I wouldn’t say so much.”

Though Spector has no plans of conducting the same sort of survey at any universities, he said he feels the results will contribute to lessening violence in schools as well.

“The more people become aware of violence and its warning signs, the better chances we have of avoiding it.”