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close this bookViolence at Work - Second Edition (ILO, 2000, 192 p.)
close this folderChapter 1. Introduction: A catalyst for action
close this folderThe emergence of violence at work as an issue
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View the documentThe United States
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There is no doubt that a series of recent tragedies like these has helped to focus international attention on violence at work as an issue of significant concern. The workplace in general has been traditionally viewed as a relatively benign and violence-free environment. It is also an environment in which confrontation and dialogue can form a part of the normal operating milieu. Workers and managers are confronted on a daily basis with their personal and work-related problems. They may have to face the anxieties and frustration of co-workers, organizational difficulties, personality clashes, aggressive intruders from the outside, and problematic relations with clients and the public. Despite this, dialogue usually prevails over confrontation and people manage to organize efficient and productive activities within the workplace. There are cases, however, where this course of events fails to develop in a positive way; when relationships between workers, managers, clients or the public deteriorate, and the objectives of working efficiently and achieving productive results are affected. When this situation occurs, and it would seem to be occurring with increasing frequency, violence may enter the workplace and transform it into a hostile and hazardous setting.

The Thurston High School shooting: The events of 20 May 1998

On Wednesday, police confiscate what they think is a stolen .32-caliber handgun from the locker of Kipland P. Kinkel, 15 years of age. He is expelled from Thurston High School, taken to Skipworth Juvenile Detention Facility in Eugene, charged with possession of a stolen firearm and released to his parents, William and Faith Kinkel.

1. Kipland Kinkel drives to Thurston High School Thursday morning and parks several blocks away. The freshman has a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, a .22-caliber handgun and a 9 mm Glock handgun.

2. Kinkel walks into the school and enters the cafeteria through a side door, wearing a khaki-colored trench coat and hat. As many as 400 students are gathered there.

3. Kinkel raises the rifle to hip level, starts swiveling it slowly side to side and begins firing. Students think he is part of a skit related to school.

4. Kinkel starts to reload and is rushed by wrestler Jake Ryker, who has been shot. Jake is joined by his brother Josh. Students detain Kinkel until police arrive.

5. One student dead at scene. Twenty-three others are hit by gunfire. Some are in critical condition. There is a panicked rush for the cafeteria doors.

6. Ambulances take 12 of the injured to McKenzie-Willamette Hospital in Springfield. One dies later at the hospital.

7. Eleven of the injured are taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene.

Police question Kinkel, whom they describe as having a “very calm demeanor”. During questioning, officers are dispatched to his home, where the bodies of William and Faith Kinkel are found. Anxious parents begin arriving at the school. They are gathered together in one location. At 8.45 a.m., names of the wounded are announced. Each name draws screams. Some parents sob uncontrollably.

Source: Oregon Live, retrieved at, on 1 July 1999.

Some brief examples can assist at this stage in illustrating the scope, dimension and type of violence associated with workplaces in many parts of the world: