Workplace violence and harassment on the increase in Europe

Monday, 21 February, 2011

Violence, bullying and harassment are becoming increasingly common features of European workplaces, according to a new report by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA). Yet the response from organisations and national governments is widely felt to be inadequate.

Third-party violence and harassment affect 5-20% of European workers, depending on the country, sector and methodology employed. The report ‘Workplace Violence and Harassment: a European Picture’ includes international statistics collected by the European Risk Observatory, part of EU-OSHA. Its recent pan-European workplace survey ESENER shows that 40% of European managers are concerned by workplace violence and harassment, but only around 25% have implemented procedures to deal with it - in many EU countries not more than 10%. The problem is even more acute in health and social work and in education with more than 50% of managers identifying it as a health and safety problem.

“Both violence and harassment represent serious but under-reported threats to the safety and wellbeing of workers in Europe,” says Agency Director Jukka Takala. “Violence, verbal aggression or threats that employees experience with customers or patients are critical health and safety issues. And the psychological consequences are sometimes more dangerous than physical wounds. Workplace harassment can lead to stress, long-term sick leave and even suicide. Economic consequences are reduced productivity, increased sickness absence, higher turnover of staff and premature retirement due to disability at often early ages.”

The report also reveals that in many European countries, there is still not enough recognition of workplace violence, with few specific initiatives dealing with the issue. At national level and among individual organisations there is a need to raise awareness, and put in place policies and procedures to tackle and prevent violence and harassment at work.

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