Smaller businesses, businesses that opened at their current locations within the past two years and businesses having only one worker on duty evenings and weekends are more likely than other workplaces to experience homicides, a University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill study shows.
Job sites with only male employees or only black or Asian workers also were at increased risk of on-site killings, the study found.
While few of the risk factors identified are easy to change, it is important to know what they are before implementing measures to reduce potential risks, researchers say.
"After motor vehicle crashes, homicides are the leading cause of death on the job for workers in the United States," said Dr. Dana Loomis, professor of epidemiology at the UNC School of Public Health. "Every week, 20 workers are killed and 18,000 are assaulted. It is only in the last decade, however, that violence against workers has become widely recognized as an occupational health problem."
A report on the new findings appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers identified 152 on-the-job homicide deaths in North Carolina between 1994 and the first quarter of 1998.
They focused on 105 cases and 210 control workplaces in which killings did not occur.
Fifty-nine of the killings took place in retail trade such as convenience stores, 14 in transportation such as taxis and 11 in manufacturing.
The rest occurred in banking and real estate, business services and entertainment and recreation. Researchers also interviewed business owners, police and others.
"Relative to those in other locations, workplaces located in shopping centers or malls had about half the risk of experiencing a killing, while workplaces in residential areas or industrial zones had about 50 percent higher risks," Loomis said. "Workplaces that had opened or changed location with the last two years had a five-fold excess risk, while no excess risk existed for those that had been in the same location more than two years."
Job sites employing only men were three times as likely to have a homicide as those where women predominated, he said.
Sites with no white workers faced roughly 10 times the risk as those where the workforce was of mixed races. Evening and weekend hours boosted the chance of such deaths five times.
"From previous studies of robbery, we had also expected to find that urban workplaces, workplaces in isolated locations and those near interstate highways were more likely to experience a killing, but the data did not support these expectations," Loomis said.
A strength of the study was that it relied on the North Carolina medical examiner system''s statewide reporting of homicides rather than on less reliable reports from law enforcement agencies to the FBI. Another is that it carefully matched cases with control workplaces over time.
Limitations include that the authors could not assess the contribution of personal characteristics or behaviors to the risk of homicides on the job with available data.
"This study constitutes a significant step forward relative to previous research on workplace homicide," Loomis said. "No previous study that we know of has examined employer- or community-level risk factors for workplace homicide. Most previous work on the problem has only been able to describe the occurrence of deaths or injuries by characteristics whose distribution can be estimated from population statistics, like industry, occupation and worker age, sex and ethnicity."
by Virginia Foran