Comment: Criminal risks

Many of us in HR will be familiar with staff accounts about having to pass through “rough neighbourhoods” on the way to work. Leaving your front door has always had its risks and in most countries, you are statistically more likely to have an accident travelling to work than run the risk of being carjacked (hijacked in your car). But in many countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, crime – particularly violent crime – has long been at a frightening level. Elsewhere, such as the UK, violent crime is on the increase, and where unemployment and poverty are high, there is inevitably going to be a significant section of the population who resort to violent crime.

It is something of a myth that most victims of knife and firearms offences are rowdy drunks caught up in personal squabbles, or are due to gang rivalry between drugs cartels. Yes, this is the case in some urban hotspots. However, most injuries conducted during fights on the street do not result from weapons, but kicks and punches. In the UK, during 2018, 79% of cases of violence involved no weapons, 6% involved a stabbing implement, and 6% a “hitting implement”, which included the use of a glass bottle. What’s more, 43% of knife crime involved robbery – usually of strangers – and only 2% during sexual assault or rape.

But how safe from crime are we in our homes, cars, and at work? Once again, availability of statistics is an issue here. In the UK we are now four times (400%) safer from acts of burglary than in 1995. In the USA, latest figures indicate that burglary is declining – down from 23.7 cases per 1,000 households in 2016 to 20.6 cases last year. However, the proportion of robbery victims and those aged 12+ who were victims of violent crime rose over this period, indicating that criminal activity is being increasingly pushed out to the streets.

Carjackings can take place at any time and are particularly a problem in countries, like South Africa, where over half take place in the northern province of Guateng. In the USA there are around 50,000 incidents of stealing a vehicle that has the driver in it, or accessing it. In 92% of cases the driver is alone and in the majority of incidents a weapon is used. Since 1992 it is a capital offence under federal law if a homicide occurs during a carjacking incident and this has certainly led to a lower than expected incidence of fatalities during the perpetration of this crime. Its incidence is also low in residential and business districts – unless they are close to a freeway onramp.

Last, but not least, how safe are we in the workplace? According to the National Safety Council, 17% of all workplace fatalities in the USA were due to violent acts. Much of workplace violence goes unreported, but according to OHSA, 2 million US workers experience some form of workplace violence each year. Mass shootings in the workplace over the decade to 2017 were also 2.4 times higher than in the previous decade. The perpetrators of the crimes were less likely to be colleagues than previous employees, vendors, customers, or those known to existing employees. In the case of female victims, 40% of violent crimes were inflicted by existing, or previous domestic partners who pursued them to work.

So, what can an employer do to help combat the very real risks that their staff face every day? Clearly, employees are generally more at risk when travelling to work, travelling during the course of their work, or within the workplace itself. What employers should be in a position to control is the safe use of company vehicles and access to company premises. It often takes a tragedy to persuade an employer to tighten up their safety practices and issue guidelines to employees on how to “stay safe”. FedEE is currently drawing up a model guideline for use by Member organisations and hopefully, with feedback from you, we can refine this over time.

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