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By Kotie Geldenhuys

In the early morning hours of 2 June 2019, Bernard Groenewald, a truck driver, pulled over along the N1 near Touws River in the Western Cape, when a petrol bomb was thrown into his truck. As he tried to jump out of his truck to escape, he broke his ankle and was unable to flee the scene. While he was on the ground, another petrol bomb was thrown at him. On 14 June 2019, he died due to the multiple injuries he had sustained (Kassen, 2019). There are many workers like Bernard and other employees in several other work environments, who are risking their lives to earn a living.

The general perception about violence relates to physical assault or even murder. However, workplace violence is an important subdivision of violence which describes any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her place of employment. Rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assault, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson and murder are all examples of workplace violence (CCOHS, Nd). The extent of workplace violence in South Africa is unclear, but every year, millions of American workers report to be victims of workplace violence. In 2018, workplace assaults in the USA resulted in 20 790 injuries and 453 fatalities (https://injury-facts.nsc.org/work safety topics/assault).

The term “workplace violence” can be confusing. What is perceived as workplace violence in the field of healthcare, is not necessarily perceived as workplace violence in policing. For example, when a police official is hit or pushed by a detainee or a community member, the police official may not regard it as workplace violence, but when a nurse is hit or pushed by a patient, the nurse will most probably perceive it as workplace violence. To police officials there is a contradiction with regard to what may be regarded as acceptable behaviour or what is regarded as normal or abnormal behaviour in the workplace. Police officials often find themselves at the receiving end of violence while in contact with criminals or suspects. As a result, police officials may not view workplace violence as a criminal act worthy of being reported. Police officials perceive violent incidents as an everyday part of their job. In the majority of cases, community members who act violently towards police officials when facing arrest, will be charged with resisting arrest rather than being charged with assaulting a police official. Ensuring the safety of the community does not mean that police officials become immune to the violence that can be perpetrated by those they must keep safe. Policing itself exposes police officials to danger, where they become targets and victims of workplace violence. However, in policing, safety from harm cannot be guaranteed (Mabunda, 2019).

Workplace violence, in the field of threat assessment, is defined as any actual, attempted or planned violence towards another. It includes communication or behaviour which cause others to fear for their safety and includes sexual violence and workplace bullying. It is any act where a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, sexually harassed or assaulted in his or her workplace (Labuschagne, Nd).

Victims of workplace violence
Although no occupation is immune to workplace violence, some occupations tend to be more at risk than others. This includes employees who:

  • handle money or valuables such as cashiers, transport workers, cash-in-transit employees, bank and post office staff, pharmacists and shop assistants;
  • provide care, advice, education and training such as nurses, ambulance staff, social workers and teachers;
  • carry out inspections or enforcement duties such as police and traffic officials;
  • work with mentally disabled, psychiatric, drunk or potentially violent people such as correctional officials, bar tenders and mental health workers; and
  • work alone such as taxi drivers, domestic workers and domestic repair workers (Mabunda, 2019).

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[This is only an extract of an article published in Servamus: October 2020. The rest of the article discusses different types of workplace violence; the factors that contribute to such violence; the issue of vicarious liability; the effect of workplace violence; and how to deal with such violence. If you are interested in reading the full article, send an email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or contact Servamus’s offices at tel: (012) 345 4660. Ed.]

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