Learning about violence in the workplace allows workers to better recognize it, prevent it and effeciently manage it.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO)1, workplace violence refers to “Any action, incident, or behavior that departs from reasonable conduct in which a person is assaulted, threatened, harmed, injured in the course of, or as a direct result of, his or her work”.
Workplace violence includes both:
According to data from official reports7, women (representing between 53% and 75% of cases) are more often victims of SVA at work than men. However, homicide victims are mostly men (about 82% of workplace homicides).
This difference is partly explained by the fact that men are much more likely to be victims of attacks with a weapon. In fact, according to a study, men represent 93% of victims of attacks with a knife and 97% of victims of attacks with a firearm. Women, on the other hand, are at greater risk of being victims of unarmed assault (84% of victims).
According to data from victimization surveys in the healthcare sector8, there were no significant differences between men and women concerning exposure to SVA. However, for certain job categories, differences were observed. Most data showed that male nurses are more often victims of SVA than their female colleagues. The results are more mixed for doctors, since some studies indicate that women are more at risk, others show that men are more at risk, while still others conclude that there exists no significant difference. It is therefore difficult to determine whether male doctors are more likely than their female counterparts to be victims of SVA, or vice versa.
According to data from victimization surveys in other sectors9, men are more likely than women to be victims of SVA at work. That conclusion, however, must be considered in light of other findings regarding the law enforcement and transportation sectors: women working in these sectors are more likely than their male counterparts to be victims of physical assault.
In addition, a study including several sectors of activity detailed the injuries and the costs associated with SVA at work according to the gender of the victims. The results indicated that men are more at risk of injury, but women lose more time from work.
According to Statistics Canada2, there are about 350,000 cases of workplace violence each year in Canada.
According to a 2012 survey of 2,889 workers in Quebec3:
In 2012, 70.3% of lesions attributable to violence in the workplace and accepted by the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CSST) affected women. Female workers in the healthcare and social services sector were the most affected by violence in the workplace, with 33% of the lesions.
According to a 2012 survey of 2,889 workers in Quebec3, workplace violence has a high personal cost for victims and witnesses.
It can have psychological consequences such as:
According to a 2012 survey of 2,889 workers in Quebec3, victims and witnesses of workplace violence can have difficulties at work, such as:
According to a 2012 survey of 2,889 workers in Quebec10, over 90% of workers said they had talked about an SVA experienced at work with a person in their personal or professional environment. However, 53% of men and 61% of women reported that they had also preferred avoiding places or people that reminded them of the event of which they had been victims or witnesses. This corresponds to an avoidance strategy, which can itself lead to long-term psychological consequences.
Reporting an act of violence gives people the opportunity to:
If more victims reported acts of violence, it would be possible to:
In some situations, we don’t know if it’s a good idea to talk about violence with our employer. We are afraid of being judged or we may have difficulty expressing how we feel. We may also believe that what we experienced isn’t “serious” enough to report. Nevertheless, if we experience workplace violence, it’s important to turn to our colleagues and loved ones in order to:
These situations are examples of workplace violence:
Homicides and firearm injuries are extreme examples of workplace violence. The media regularly focuses on these events because they evoke emotional responses, such as feelings of horror and shock. However, these acts are infrequent and constitute the minority of workplace violence. More frequent are those “everyday” acts of workplace violence, including:
It is sometimes difficult to identify violent situations when they occur between colleagues (horizontal violence) or between a superior and a subordinate (vertical violence).
Conflict or violence? Management rights or violence? What are the risk factors?
The Institut de recherche en santé et sécurité au travail (Occupational Health and Safety Research Institute) provides answers and draws a portrait of the main risk factors associated with work organization (workload and psychological demands, decision latitude, social support and recognition at work).
Examples of problematic situations
The Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (Commission of standards, equity, health and work safety) has posted vignettes to illustrate the types of problem situations that may arise in the workplace and the manner in which they could have been resolved.
The first vignette demonstrates how changes in the organization can cause adjustment difficulties, giving the impression of an abuse of authority and psychological harassment.
The second vignette demonstrates a situation of psychological harassment in the workplace in which the employer intervenes. The employee feels that his pride has been hurt and he is so tormented that he resigns.
The third vignette demonstrates a situation of psychological harassment in the workplace where the employer does not intervene. This made her work environment harmful.
When we are a victim of workplace violence, there are a number of reasons why we may not want to talk about it with those around us. For example, it can be difficult to put into words how we feel. We might say to ourselves that it wasn’t “that bad,” despite the consequences we suffer. We may be hesitant to “bother” others or we may fear being judged if we talk about what we’ve experienced.
Yet, workplace violence can have many negative consequences for the victim or witness. It can be truly devastating for an individual. Social support is essential to break the isolation and requires asking for help from a third party. This person may be a co-worker, a relative, an acquaintance or a professional.
A number of studies have shown that receiving support from a good listener actually reduces the risk of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and psychological distress.
Employers have a legal duty to prevent workplace violence and to provide a safe work environment for their staff––that is, an environment without violence. They must protect their employees from workplace violence.4
People who are most at risk of experiencing violence at work include those who6:
Workplace violence is also costly for employers. The total cost of Workers’ Compensation (for both psychological and physical harm) for all organizations in Quebec is between 8 to 10 million dollars per year5
Workplace violence can also:
Documentary Des soins aux poings on workplace violence in the health sector. Stéphane Guay, director of the Trauma Studies Centre, explains the results of research on the subject.
Watch the documentary (in French)
Lydia Forté, criminologist, presents results of her research in a lecture entitled Intervene in a context where violence against a worker is possible: how to modulate the fear?
Watch the conference (in French)
Extract of Une pilule, une petite granule on workplace violence. Workers from healthcare and transportation testify. Stéphane Guay, director of the Trauma Studies Centre, gives the benefit of his expertise.
Stéphane Guay, director of the Trauma Studies Centre, presents a Webinar on psychological consequences of workplace violence.
1 International Labour Organization (2003). Code of Practice on Workplace Violence in Services Sectors and Measures to Combat this Phenomenon. Geneva: International Labour Office.
2 De Léséleuc, S. (2004). Criminal Victimization in the Workplace (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series). Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: Statistics Canada.
3, 10 Équipe de recherche VISAGE. (2012). Results “Survey in Three Professional Sectors”. http://www.equipevisage.ca/en/outils/results-survey-in-three-professional-sectors/
4 Charter of Rights and Freedoms (article 46), Civil Code of Quebec (article 2087) and An Act Respecting Occupational Health and Safety (articles 9 and 51).
5 Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en sécurité du travail (IRSST). http://www.irsst.qc.ca/prevention-violence/en/concerned.html
6 Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). http://www.ccohs.ca/products/courses/violence_awareness/
7, 8, 9, 10 Équipe de recherche VISAGE. (2014). Summary “Men and woman facing violence at work: the risks of exposure”. http://www.equipevisage.ca/en/outils/summary-men-and-woman-facing-violence-at-work-the-risks-of-exposure-2/