One-Third of Homicides of Females at Work By Intimate Partners, Relatives, Study Shows

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By Bruce Rolfsen  


Women who are murdered at work are almost as likely to be the victim of a spouse, friend, or relative as they are an assailant they do not know, a new study of workplace violence found.

“Domestic violence can spill over into the workplace and our findings indicate that women are killed on the job by intimate partners nearly as frequently as they are killed by strangers,” the report by researchers from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and West Virginia University concluded.

In 33 percent of workplace homicides, the assailant had a personal relationship with the victim, while robberies and similar attacks were responsible for 39 percent of the deaths, the study determined. The remaining deaths involved co-workers or customers.

The report, “Workplace Homicides Among U.S. Women: The Role of Intimate Partner Violence,” appeared in the April edition of Annals of Epidemiology (Vol. 22, Issue 4).

Report co-author Hope M. Tiesman, an epidemiologist with NIOSH's Division of Safety Research in Morgantown, W.Va., told BNA April 6 that the results show the need for employer workplace violence prevention programs to address threats from potentially violent spouses, relatives, and other acquaintances.

As a starting point for developing prevention programs, Tiesman recommended the Department of Justice-sponsored website,

The report's research looked at information collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for the years 2003 through 2008 and the bureau's Current Population Survey.

First Nationwide Review

The authors said they think this study is the first nationwide review of workplace homicides committed by intimate partners and others with a personal relationship with the female victim. Previous studies were limited to a particular city or state.

The census showed there were 648 workplace homicides of women during those six years. There were enough details for 544 cases (84 percent) to determine a personal relationship between the victim and assailant.

Of those 544 murders, 81 involved a former or current spouse, 61 were attributed to a current or former unmarried partner, and 39 were attributed to friend or relative.

“I was shocked at the number of deaths that had occurred,” Tiesman said of the number attributed to intimate partners.

She noted that when preventing workplace homicides is discussed, much of the focus is on dealing with criminals, co-workers, and customers.

“We spend very little time talking about [personal relations],” Tiesman said.

When the researchers looked at victims' ages, they found that about 44 percent of the victims between ages 25 and 44 were killed by intimate partners, while robbery was the primary event leading to the murders of women in other age groups.

Tiesman suspects older women are less often victims of spouses or partners because they have left bad relationships.

Employers Have Increased Risks

The report also found that women working for private employers were more likely to be murder victims than women working for a government agency. The rate for privately employed women was almost two murders for every 1 million female employees compared to about one murder for every 1 million women employed by a government agency.

Data were not available to explain the difference, but Tiesman said it could reflect tighter security at government buildings.

The most common place for assaults by personal relations were parking lots and garages (27 percent).

The prevalence of attacks in parking areas suggests the need for having separate parking areas for employees and non-employees and improved safety in parking areas through the use of lighting and security patrols, the report said.

The Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration in September issued guidelines to its inspectors for investigating on-the-job violence (62 BTM 290, 9/13/11).

By Bruce Rolfsen