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close this bookViolence at Work - Second Edition (ILO, 2000, 192 p.)
close this folderChapter 3. Explanations
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentComplex causes, complex solutions
View the documentFactors leading to violence
View the documentIndividual behaviour and workplace violence
View the documentInteractive model and explanation
View the documentPerpetrators
View the documentVictims
View the documentEnvironment
Open this folder and view contentsSituations at risk
View the documentOutcome
View the documentTowards finding responses
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Complex causes, complex solutions

There is a strong and natural desire among most citizens to seek simple explanations and solutions to the violence which may be gripping their society and threatening “the way decent people live”. As has been observed, it is often the media who provide such explanations and convey lasting impressions of the type of people responsible for “an epidemic” of violence in the workplace. Those impressions are often dominated by images of “disgruntled employees” and “angry spouses”, “unhappy, desperate, often psychiatrically impaired people”, venting their anger on colleagues at the workplace. Those media images, of course, also spread with amazing speed around the globe and affect public and official perceptions of violence far beyond their place of origin.

The analysis made of the nature and scope of workplace violence in Chapter 2 suggests that there are cases where these media-created perceptions are both inaccurate and misleading. Despite this, they are still perceptions that can influence policy, as well as the way governments and other bodies think about and respond to the problems of violence in general, and workplace violence in particular. Thus a principal strategy to deal with the disgruntled, angry and possibly mentally ill people who may explode into violence at the workplace is to either deny these “ticking time-bombs” access to work sites, or to try and identify or defuse their rage before it detonates.

Much of the current workplace violence prevention literature reflects such an approach, with the development of pre-employment tests to screen out and exclude those who might be violent; of profiles to identify those who might become violent in the existing workforce; and of measures to deal with violence when it occurs.3 This approach is also characterized typically by an emphasis on the need for “target hardening” through the use of a range of security measures to restrict entry to and movement within the workplace.4

3 A bibliography containing reference to much of this prevention literature will be found in Mantell and Albrecht, 1994, pp. 264-5. The issue of prevention strategies is taken up in some detail in Part II of this report.

4 See D.F. Bush and P.G. O’Shea, “Workplace violence: Comparative use of prevention practices and policies”, in VandenBos and Bulatao, 1996, pp. 283-298.

Measures of this type, like those mentioned earlier restricting access to firearms in the wake of the tragedies at Dunblane and Port Arthur, may well assist in reducing the incidence of violence at the workplace, and in the wider community. To this extent they are measures which deserve approbation, but this praise must be restrained by the realization that they are still measures addressing limited symptoms of an extremely complex and diverse problem which defies either an easy explanation or solution.

A recognition and an understanding of the variety and complexity of the factors which contribute to violence must be a vital precursor of any effective violence prevention or control programme. In this chapter it is sought to provide such understanding, first through a brief review of a number of factors that have been identified as the most significant in explaining violence in general, and second by considering how these factors may interact to produce violence at work.