“If you factor these people in, then you will find that that figure is higher,” said Engel, who is also the author of Taming the Beast: Getting Violence Out of the Workplace.
While Engel would like to see these workers covered in the next survey, as well as questions about psychological harassment and bullying, she said this study is a good first step.
“I think it’s great, absolutely fantastic that finally we have our own national victimization survey that we can talk about, that we don’t have to keep going to the United States and drawing inferences from (them),” she said.
The study found social assistance and health-care service workers were the most at risk for violence, with one-third of workplace violence occurring in these sectors.
This finding didn’t surprise Engel, who said previous research showed an increased risk of violence for people who work directly with the public. Also, people who work in health care and social services deal with a population that is more volatile and under stress, she added.
The study also looked at the effect of workplace violence on the victims. Men and women were equally likely to be victims of workplace violence (47 per cent and 53 per cent respectively).
However, men, at 27 per cent, were more likely to be injured in a workplace incident than women, at 17 per cent. Men were also more likely to report an incident than women (57 per cent compared to 20 per cent).
“Reporting to the police is likely due to injury and since men are more likely to be injured, they’re more likely to report,” said Sylvain de Léséleuc, author of the study for Statistics Canada.
Overall, victims of workplace violence were more likely to report the crime to police than victims of violence outside of work (37 per cent compared to 17 per cent). Also, the police were more likely to conduct an investigation of a workplace incident than a non-workplace incident (80 per cent compared to 58 per cent).
This could be because workplace violence often occurs in public, which increases the chance there will be witnesses, said de Léséleuc.
“If there’s a greater chance of the presence of witnesses, sometimes police are more likely to take action,” he said.
Workplace violence also had a bigger impact on victims’ abilities to carry out everyday activities, with 25 per cent of workplace victims reporting difficulty doing so compared to only 14 per cent of non-workplace victims. This kind of trauma is to be expected because the victim’s everyday tasks include the very place and situation that led to the crime, said Engel.
“If they were a customer in the bank and there was a hold up, they could avoid going into a bank,” said Engel. “But if part of your work is to be the teller in the bank, then you have to go back and face every day the feeling that you were at risk. Suddenly that little protective shell that we all have around us that lets us function begins to crack and you realize that you’re vulnerable.”
Most Canadian jurisdictions have a “general duty provision” in their occupational health and safety legislation, which requires employers to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. However, only the Canada Labour Code (for federally-regulated employers), British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Alberta have specific legislation around the employer’s duty to protect workers from violence.
Hopefully this study will change that and prompt legislators to create appropriate policies and regulations, said de Léséleuc.
The study should also serve as a wake-up call for organizations.
“It will certainly debunk the myth that our workplaces are safe environments and that people aren’t at risk,” said Engel.
At the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence, French said there are simple actions that employers can take to minimize the risk of workplace violence. Employers should complete a risk assessment, develop a set of preventative actions to minimize risks, develop procedures for reporting incidents and evaluating responses and ensure there’s a crisis response plan in place as well as support for victims.
The good news is that there are violence prevention program templates available online from the provinces that have enacted legislation.
“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said French.