One in eight feds have witnessed workplace violence in past two years

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One in eight federal employees observed or experienced workplace violence in the past two years, according to a new report from the Merit Systems Protection Board.

The findings are part of MSPB’s 2010 Merit Principles Survey, which asked 71,910 full-time, permanent, nonpostal federal employees for their perceptions of their jobs, work environments and supervisors. The board received 42,020 responses -- a 58 percent participation rate.

Thirteen percent of the respondents said they had witnessed an act of violence in their workplace. More than half the perpetrators were current or former federal employees; one-third were agency customers or clients. In only 11 percent of these incidents, the perpetrator was an individual who had no connection to the workplace. The survey defined violence as physical attacks, threats of attack, harassment, intimidation or bullying.

“These behaviors demand the attention of federal managers because they poison the work environment and may lead to more serious physical violence,” MSPB Chairwoman Susan Tsui Grundmann said. She added the majority of instances involved threats, harassment, intimidating or bullying, not physical injury or property damage.

The results reflect similar findings in other sectors, although federal employees working in public safety and medical occupations reported higher rates of workplace violence. According to MSPB’s findings, 26 percent of federal employees in medical and hospital occupations and 21 percent of those involved in law enforcement and security said they observed an incident of workplace violence in the past two years.

Of these violent incidences, 15 percent resulted in physical injury, 10 percent lead to property loss or damage, and 75 percent resulted in neither.

MSPB recommended agencies adopt violence prevention programs that take into account geographic location, mission and occupation; and human resources and address employee stress related to workplace violence. Although 73 percent of the survey’s respondents said they believed their agencies take sufficient steps to ensure their safety, Grundmann noted preventing and mitigating workplace violence perpetrated by federal employees is challenging.

“Limiting physical access to federal workplaces is not enough because the vast majority of perpetrators of federal workplace violence are individuals who, for the most part, have a legitimate reason to be in the workplace,” she said.

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