The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that an average of 1.7 million people annually were the victims of non-lethal workplace assaults during the period 1993-1999. Leading the way for types of employment carrying the greatest risk of assault, were nursing homes and hospitals. Retail operations, such as grocery stores, also carried a surprisingly high risk compared with other types of occupations.
Preventing violent attacks on workers, to the extent possible, is an obligation for all employers. NIOSH suggests some common-sense and simple measures to improve workplace safety, such as: ensuring that all workplace areas are well-lit; creating barriers such as high counters or bullet-proof windows for employees who must keep significant amounts of cash within their control; keeping more people on staff; decreasing the use of cash in favor of electronic transactions. While most specific crimes are not foreseeable, the possibility of crime may well be foreseeable. Workplaces in a bad neighborhood, dim lighting in a parking lot or garage, female employees working alone late at night, are just a few examples of types of situations that should alert the employer to the obligation to act affirmatively to protect employees.
Instructing workers never to resist a demand for money or goods is no panacea, but can keep employees safer if they are on duty when a crime is committed. Increased security in post “9/11” America has been attributed to a modest reduction in workplace assaults during the last several years. Overall security in many cities and larger office buildings is tighter. For the lone gas station or convenience store attendant, however, or the nursing home employee supervising too many residents with too few colleagues, “9/11” types of security enhancements make no difference. They must rely on their employer’s diligence in helping to keep them safe.