To date, NIOSH intramural and extramural workplace violence research has focused on the highest risk occupations, including health care workers, taxi cab drivers, and retail sales. Because of an increase in the prevalence of school-based policies aimed at reducing violence in youth and recent reports suggesting that teachers and other school staff may face daily threats of workplace violence, NIOSH was prompted to examine risk factors and prevention polices and practices for workplace violence for K-12 school staff. Recent data demonstrates that teachers experience 39 crimes per 1,000 teachers (25 thefts and 14 violent crimes) and the true rate may be much higher since most incidents go unreported. As recent media reports have illustrated, this is a troubling problem affecting school personnel in elementary, middle and high schools across the nation.
Communities and schools have responded to student-on-student violence through school-based violence prevention programs and policies, yet science-based evaluations of the effectiveness of these programs are rare. It is not known if these programs have any effect on workplace violence rates in teachers and school staff.
With the exception of a recent study by the University of Minnesota which focused only on teachers, NIOSH is undertaking what we believe to be the first study to evaluate the effect of school-based violence prevention programs addressing assaults from students on both teachers and other school staff. Limited prior studies of workplace violence in the teaching field have relied on workers compensation records due to a variety of reasons, including teachers unwillingness to report violent events to police, insufficient reporting mechanisms for reporting non-physical workplace violence events, and acceptance of the risk of workplace violence in the education field. The scant research available demonstrates that teachers and other school employees may be at an increased risk for theft of personal property, verbal threats of physical harm, bullying, abuse, physical assault, and injury.
Working with partners, including the two leading national education unions, NIOSH decided to conduct the study in Pennsylvania as the state includes large urban and rural school districts. The study aims to describe and quantify physical and non-physical workplace violence against teachers and school staff; measure the impact of physical and non-physical workplace violence on job satisfaction and the mental health of teachers and school staff; and determine if nonfatal work-related assault rates are significantly lower in schools that employ student-directed violence prevention programs.
The study and the survey that will be used to collect the data are in the development stage. As we begin this research, NIOSH would like to use the NIOSH Science Blog to hear from teachers, school staff, administrators, and union representatives about prevention programs in their schools and their perceptions of what is and is not working to protect teachers and other school staff.
School violence is a complex issue, and studying workplace violence in the school setting has unique challenges. It is important to protect the health and safety of the professionals who educate and support our youth. We appreciate your comments. They will be invaluable in informing this research and ultimately the evidence-based prevention programs that are generated.
Hope Tiesman, Ph.D., MSPH
Dr. Tiesman is an injury epidemiologist in the Division of Safety Research at NIOSH and the project officer on this study.
More information on student-related violence can be found at CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control including the School-Associated Violent Death Study.