Workplace violence is a significant occupational health and safety issue and occurs when workers experience verbal abuse, verbal/physical threat of assault or physical assault, which includes fatal and non-fatal injury, as well as adverse emotional consequences in the absence of a physical injury.

Although workplace violence is typically considered a problem in select occupational settings such as law enforcement, it can also occur on dairy farms. Workplace violence happens much more frequently than one might imagine. OSHA claims that nearly 2 million workers are the victims of workplace violence each year, with the majority involving non-fatal violence.

Workplace violence can negatively affect workers through increased stress, anxiety and fear while on the job. This can manifest into decreased job satisfaction, choosing to handle workplace violence by carrying a weapon while at work, or ultimately leaving the job.

Companies can suffer tremendously from workplace violence through decreased morale and productivity, as well as increased worker absenteeism and turnover. Less often, but no less significant, employers can also face legal and security costs, as well as increases in health care and workers’ compensation costs.

Although workplace violence can involve guns and result in fatalities, most workplace violence includes verbal abuse and threats. Some specific factors which commonly play a role in workplace violence include:

  • Under-staffing, which forces people to work alone or without enough staff to provide appropriate staffing coverage
  • Lack of training for workers in recognizing and defusing potentially violent situations
  • Failure to alert workers of terminated disgruntled workers who might have a history of violence
  • Failure to design safe workplaces (including security) and emergency procedures
  • Failure to identify potentially violent situations and develop proper controls, policies and education programs
  • Lack of training for workers in reporting harassment or violent situations

From a workplace violence prevention standpoint it is necessary for dairy owners and managers to measure the frequency and “types” of workplace violence occurring on their farms, in order to determine where to place their prevention efforts and resources.

Four types of workplace violence include:

  • Type I – The perpetrator has no legitimate business with the workplace and carries out a criminal act on your farm (e.g. robber)
  • Type II – The perpetrator is a customer receiving services or contractor providing services to your company
  • Type III – The perpetrator is employed by your company and is violent toward other workers (e.g. worker-on-worker)
  • Type IIII – The perpetrator has no legitimate business with the dairy farm, but has a personal relationship with one of your workers (e.g., spouse of worker, domestic violence spills over into your farm).

More information on workplace violence can be found on the OSHA website. PD

Lisa Pompeii is a faculty member at the University of Texas, School of Public Health.

Dr. David Douphrate is an assistant professor at the University of Texas, School of Public Health. He conducts research and outreach related to worker health and safety through the High Plains and Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety (HICAHS), headquartered at Colorado State University.