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Dr. John McMahon, Forensic Behavioural Consultant

The very thought of becoming a victim of violence is often too abhorrent a reality for many people to give any serious or conscious thought to. Becoming the victim of workplace violence is in most people’s minds, something that either happens to other people or in essence something that may happen to a police officer, military personnel or other type of emergency responder. The thought of being victimized in the workplace is overwhelming for most working adults. Unfortunately, both the news media, as well as statistics collected all across North America, attest to a reality very different from the average individual’s beliefs.

Without even consulting data bases or research literature, names such as Montreal’s École Polytechnique, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, as well as the recent mass workplace shootings at the University of Alabama, come very easily to mind. The statistics on violence in the workplace are certainly not limited to these terrible examples of large senseless loss of human lives. A Statistics Canada 2007 report on workplace violence indicates that:

  1. 20% of all violent incidents, including physical assault, sexual assault and robbery occurred in the victim’s place of work
  2. 71% of these incidents were classified as physical assaults
  3. 27% of incidents involving male victims resulted in physical injury while17% of the incidents towards female victims resulted in a physical injury

The United States department of labour 2005 survey of violence in the workplace noted that 5% of the 7.1 million American workplaces experienced at least one incident of workplace violence in any given 12 month period. Whereas 50% of United States workforces, with staff compliments of a thousand or more workers, reported a violent workplace incident each twelve month period. The report also noted that 32% of state government departments reported at least one incident of workplace violence. 

One could literally spend weeks examining all of the statistical data pertaining to violence in the workplace and breaking it down into specific types of violence committed by specific types of individuals in specific types of scenarios. Despite the potential for endless study and discussion, several facts are not in contention, namely that workplace violence is both a serious as well as prevalent issue and that historically the preventive response has been highly inadequate. 

This historical inadequacy, however, is rapidly changing as North American provincial and state governments are now beginning to mandate that employers have a statutory duty to provide assessments, policies and procedures to redress this issue. 

The Ontario government has recently passed changes to the provincial Occupational Health & Safety Act (Bill 168 Violence and Harassment in the Workplace) which clearly mandates employers to address the issue of workplace violence by:

  1. Developing written policies and procedures that will provide protection to employees from workplace violence, harassment and domestic violence;
  2. Developing workplace specific evaluations that will examine both the static (physical security/risk issues) and the dynamic (human psychological) elements of creating a safe working environment. The act also stipulates that re-assessments must be an ongoing feature of each workplace program;
  3. Developing programs and training that will provide proper and adequate responses to any perceived or actual threat of violence; and
  4. Creating a reporting system 

There is absolutely no doubt that for the overwhelming number of employers in this province, as well as in other affected jurisdictions, effective and efficient compliance with Bill 168 will create very new and unique organizational challenges.

Many organizations may have some sense of physical security issues but will be completely mystified as to how to create policy and programs that will serve to effectively prevent and/or mitigate incidences of future violence specific to their respective workplaces. Without a doubt, the issues inherent will present a significant compliance, human resource, health and safety, labour relations and potential litigation minefields.

In response to this pressing organizational need the Investigative Research Group’s Special Investigations Unit has considerable experience in dealing with threat of violence situations at all stages.

Expertise includes policy development, program design, employee training, organizational policy development, as well as the development of organizational threat evaluation systems.

The members of the Special Investigations Unit are also available to advise and assist with any issues that may require mitigation. In addition the Special Investigations Unit maintains a forensic psychological consulting resource to provide highly specialized evaluations and consultation pertaining to: potential violent employee screening, profiling systems, indirect forensic personality assessment, threatening statement evaluation, hostage/violent incident survival training for employees and other specialized services as required.