Alternative Law Journal
Martin Gill, Bonnie Fisher and Vaughan Bowie (eds); Willan Publishing 2001; 240 pp; $66.
This is another book dedicated to those who lost their lives on 11 September 2001. If anything, the link between 'violence at work' and 11 September 2001 serves to remind us that 'workplace violence' is a broad and ill-defined term. While there is no disputing that loss of life is the ultimate consequence of a violent workplace incident, questions must be asked about the effects of other less serious types of workplace injury that result from violence at work.
The wide range of contributions to this book go some way towards pointing out that, indeed, the subject of workplace violence is underdeveloped. The book's contributors are from various academic disciplines and practice areas, for example, criminology and psychology, and the book includes
a chapter from a union representative. However, despite the commonsense order of chapters, in an overall sense, the book does not flow well.
For me, the first two chapters stand out. In Chapter 1, Bowie successfully argues for a new topology to def1ne violence at work. A new topology is important because, currently, there is a lack of consensus about definition. Bowie carefully builds on the widely utilised 'types of violence' categories developed by the Californian Division of Occupational Safety and Health, and adds systemic organisation violence that refers to, in part, organisational culture.
The second chapter helps clarify the notion of organisational violence. Mayhew, once again, provides different ways of thinking about workplace violence. It is easy to understand that some types of work are more 'dangerous' than others. Indeed, previous literature about workplace violence has focused on high-risk occupations such as taxi-drivers, Centrelink staff and police officers. Mayhew's scholarly and insightful work about the relationship between the risk of becoming a 'victim' and a worker's employment status is required reading for all who deal with workplace violence.
Chapter 3 focuses on the inherent risks of employing people. Employers need to develop painstakingly detailed procedures and processes when employing staff in order to identify any who are potentially violent. Unfortunately, the classic business risk-management approach does little to inform debates about the causes of workplace violence. On the other hand, for the discerning reader, the chapter highlights the idea of competing interests when the topic of workplace violence arises.
Chapter 5 examines models ofv1olence at work. The chapter also advocates the benefits of good environmental design for workplaces. The importance of providing training to allow the better identification of 'warning signs' as well as training 1n incident 'defusion' are highlighted. Such 'warning signs' are often a precursor to a violent incident.
Despite the reasonable arguments and suggestions contained in Chapter 5, there is little indication of how its recommendations might be implemented in the workplace. This suggests that the academic arguments are of little value on their own. Perhaps some comment on bridging the gap between the academic arguments and implementing workplace policy would help.
Some of the book's chapters leave the reader with an uneasy feeling because the risk management approach relies on the idea that workplace violence is ubiquitous but dormant. At any moment the stresses workers face might cause an uncontrollable eruption of anger- mayhem results. One suggestion for reducing the risk is that 'professionals' should rate workers 'dangerousness'. However, we should be wary of promoting unproven methods, such as profiling.
Many of the chapters in Violence at Work are quite 'dense' and difficult to read and understand, which makes one wonder for whom it is suitable. It seems to me that it would be useful for researchers about workplace violence rather than those interested in practical applications in the workplace. Nonetheless, the book does provide a reasonable and broad background about workplace violence.
Violence at Work could be improved by including a chapter or two to discuss successfully implemented workplace violence policies. Those chapters would include evaluations of policy supported by case studies. In sum, although the book contains two or three excellent chapters, it did not fulfil my expectations.
PAUL MARKS teaches legal studies at Flinders Univers1ty.