Our own introduction to violence in the workplace came back in 1978 when a gang fight occurred in the lobby of our office building. The fight was short but deadly and we had to escort our people out the back door since the main entrance was closed off with yellow Crime Scene tape. Took all weekend to get the lobby cleaned up.
Perhaps that’s why the GB Journal pays special attention to the growing incidence of workplace related violence we see day by day. An article in workerscompensation.com, “Food, Fists Fly as Attacks on Restaurant Workers Continue”, caught our eye recently. This piece focuses on violence in fast food outlets in California over the last few months. All types of food service have been involved and the violence has ranged from throwing drinks to serious fisticuffs. Separately, the Service Employees International Union has published a study of this growing phenomenon. Their report counts some 77,000 incidents in the last few years across the nation. The great majority of these incidents involve customers attacking servers.
And, no, we are not talking just about food fights. A NIOSH report from three years ago concluded that retail work (of all kinds) is one of the highest risk jobs for workplace violence. Back in 2015 the Society for Human Resource Management published a retailer’s guide to defending against workplace violence. As in the fast food business, the victims are often young workers, kids doing their first or second real job as a server or a cashier or clerk. The Center for Disease Control actually has a website now: Young Retail Workers—Violence at Work (https://cdc.gov/niosh/topics/retail/violence.html).
Preventing and managing workplace violence is another key example of a risk which calls for risk management and HR to work closely. Neither department can tackle this issue adequately in isolation. One of the most disturbing aspects of the growing wave of violence in retail establishments is that it is no longer related only to theft. Back in the day, people handling cash were usually the only ones at risk. Nowadays a customer goes berserk because their order has some minor defect and they tackle the server. In several fast food incidents, customers have gone through the drive-up serving window and into the restaurant, throwing punches. Ordinary questions about getting a discount escalate into a battle with a hapless cashier.
Our point is that we are seeing a new level and type of violence directed against our employees. Every organization will have a different approach to containing this risk. One answer we see more often is mediating the customer interface with a greater use of electronic interfaces like kiosks. Better that we replace a machine that’s been punched out than put an innocent teenager in harm’s way. Perhaps we should take our cue from Hippocrates (460 to 365 BCE) who said, “For extreme diseases, extreme methods of cure, as to restrictions, are most suitable.” He actually wrote: Για ακραίες ασθένειες, οι ακραίες μέθοδοι θεραπείας, ως προς τους περιορισμούς, είναι οι πλέον κατάλληλες, but you get the idea. It’s time we rethink how we serve our public. Simple, open trust may be too dangerous for our times.