Words Matter: Defining Workplace Violence and Its Typologies

By Richard Negri, Health and Safety Director, SEIU Local 121RN

OSHA defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”

This is the same definition that the Safe Care Standard campaign uses in its petition to Cal/OSHA to get a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard promulgated to cover all healthcare workers in the state of California.

Cal/OSHA categorizes workplace violence in four types:

I.         An employee involved with a criminal outsider (e.g., robbery)

II.         An employee involved with a client (e.g., customer, student, patient)

III.         An employee involved with a co-worker

IV.         An employee involved with a spouse or other significant relationship

All four types need to be considered as we move forward in meeting with Cal/OSHA to hammer out a workplace violence prevention standard in healthcare settings because, quite frankly, there is not one of these types of violence that healthcare workers have not either experienced first-hand or witnessed others on the job experiencing.

While we may not see many criminal outsiders coming to our workplaces to rob us, we only have to remember the incident that occurred this past Easter Sunday in the Los Angeles area where a person being chased by the police ran into a hospital and stabbed the first person he saw, a nurse who just happened to be in his way.

What we see the most of is Type II violence, the kind that is perpetrated by either a patient or a patient’s family member. The root cause of the violence runs the gamut; however, in most cases it is predicable and therefore should be preventable.

Type III violence comes from managers, supervisors, and co-workers – including people who are sometimes in the same union. Much of this violence comes in the form of bullying and it is rampant in the healthcare industry. The issue that we have heard time and again is that even though management or HR is aware of bullying going on at a facility, they do almost nothing about it, and not doing anything to stop or prevent that type of behavior is condoning it within the culture of the workplace.

Finally, Type IV violence is also important to talk about because domestic violence follows its victims wherever they go, including to their workplace. Just last month, in Spokane, a man went into the cancer treatment center at Deaconess Hospital and shot and killed his wife, who was working in the lab.

The definition and types of workplace violence are important for healthcare workers for a few reasons. When we talk to the authorities to report an incident, when we file a complaint with Cal/OSHA, when we meet with our employers in our labor/management meetings to find sensible solutions to issues that arise – it’s all easier to do when we all pivot from a shared understanding or what workplace violence is and how it is manifested.

One Response to “Words Matter: Defining Workplace Violence and Its Typologies”

  1. […] Cal/OSHA heard from more than a hundred of us that, while what they presented as a first draft is good, it needs to include more specific language on bullying. We are in agreement that the regulation must identify the four commonly accepted typologies of violence.  […]


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