GENEVA (ILO News) - Violence at work, ranging from bullying and mobbing, to threats by psychologically unstable co-workers, sexual harassment and homicide, is increasing worldwide and has reached epidemic levels in some countries, according to a new ILO publication.
What is more, the global cost of workplace violence is enormous and costing untold millions of dollars in losses in other countries due to causes including absenteeism and sick leave, the study says.
It also notes that professions once regarded as sheltered from workplace violence such as teaching, social services, library services and health care are being exposed to increasing acts of violence, in both developed and developing countries.
The findings are based on a new study entitled Violence at work, Third edition ( Note 1), by Vittorio Di Martino, an international expert on stress and workplace violence, and Duncan Chappell, past president of the New South Wales Mental Health Review, Australia, and the Commonwealth Arbitral Tribunal, United Kingdom.
"Bullying, harassment, mobbing and allied behaviors can be just as damaging as outright physical violence," the authors say. "Today, the instability of many types of jobs places huge pressures on workplaces, and we're seeing more of these forms of violence."
In addition, the authors also address growing concerns about terrorism, calling it "one of the new faces of workplace violence…contributing to the already-volatile mix of aggressive acts taking place on the job."
Regional trends and costs
A 2000 survey of the then-15 Member States of the European Union showed that bullying, harassment and intimidation were widespread in the region. In Germany, a 2002 study estimated that more than 800,000 workers were victims of mobbing, i.e a group of workers targeting an individual for psychological harassment. In Spain, an estimated 22 per cent of officials in public administration were victims of mobbing. In France, the number of acts of aggression against French transport workers, including taxicab drivers, rose from 3,051 in 2001 to 3,185 in 2002
In Japan, the number of cases brought before court counselors totaled 625,572 between April 2002 and March 2003. Of these, 5.1 per cent, or almost 32,000, were related to harassment and bullying, whereas, from April to September 2003 a 51,444 consultations requests, 9.6 per cent concerned bullying and harassment.
In developing countries, the most vulnerable workers include women, migrants and children, according to the report. In Malaysia, 11,851 rape and molestation cases at the workplace were reported between 1997 and May 2001. Widespread sexual harassment and abuse were major concerns in South Africa, Ukraine, Kuwait and Hong Kong, China, among others, the report said.
In South Africa, workers in the health care sector bear the brunt of workplace violence, according to the study. Over one 12-month period, a survey showed 9 per cent of those employed in the private health sector and up to 17 per cent of those in the public sector experienced physical violence.
On a more positive note, the study cited improvements in England, Wales and the United States. In England and Wales, the estimated 849,000 incidents of workplace violence in 2002-2003, including 431,000 physical assaults and 418,000 threats, represented a decline from 1.3 million such incidents cited in a previous survey. In the United States, where homicide is the third leading cause of death at work, the number of workplace murders has declined in recent years, with a similar trend for non-fatal assaults. The report says women represent approximately 61 per cent of all victimized workers because of their concentration in jobs considered high-risk for assault.
The cost of workplace violence, while high, is often difficult to calculate. Some countries, such as Australia, estimate costs to employers to be between 6 and 13 billion Australian dollars; in other areas such as the European Union, studies show a significant correlation between health-related absences and exposure to violence at work.
Growing awareness of the need to tackle workplace violence has spawned the development of new and effective prevention strategies. The study highlights a number of "best practice" examples from local and national governments, enterprises and trade unions from around the world that have successfully implemented "zero tolerance" polices and violence-prevention training programmes.
In fact, many countries have now explicitly recognized violence in their national occupational health and safety legislation. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Poland and Sweden have recently adopted new legislation or amended existing laws and regulations to address violence at work.
The ILO has also adopted a number of fundamental Conventions on worker protection and dignity at work. In 2004, the ILO Code of Practice, Workplace violence in services sectors and measures to combat this phenomenon ( Note 2), was published to address the extent and severity of workplace violence in various service sector industries. In addition, the ILO, along with partners at the International Council of Nurses, World Health Organization and Public Services International, have developed framework guidelines to combat workplace violence in the health sector.
For more information, or to purchase a copy of these publications, please visit www.ilo.org/publ.
Note 2 - Workplace violence in services sectors and measures to combat this phenomenon, ISBN 92-2-115288-X, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2004.