Context.— Public health workers may work with clients whose behaviors are risks
for both infectious disease and violence.
Objective.— To assess frequency of violent threats and incidents experienced by
public health workers and risk factors associated with incidents.
Design.— Anonymous, self-administered questionnaires.
Setting.— Texas sexually transmitted disease (STD), human immunodeficiency virus
and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS), and tuberculosis (TB) programs.
Participants.— Questionnaires were completed by 364 (95.5%) of 381 public health workers
assigned to the programs. The STD program employed 131 workers (36%), the
HIV/AIDS program, 121 workers (33%), and the TB program, 112 workers (31%).
Main Outcome Measures.— The frequencies with which workers had ever experienced (while on the
job) verbal threats, weapon threats, physical attacks, and rape, and risk
factors associated with those outcomes.
Results.— A total of 139 (38%) of 364 workers reported 611 violent incidents.
Verbal threats were reported by 136 workers (37%), weapon threats by 45 (12%),
physical attacks by 14 (4%), and rape by 3 (1%). Five workers (1%) carried
guns and/or knives while working. In multiple logistic regression, receipt
of verbal threats was associated with worker's male sex (odds ratio [OR],
2.4; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.5-4.0), white ethnicity (OR, 2.4; 95%
CI, 1.4-4.1), experience of 5 years or longer (OR, 2.2; 95% CI, 1.3-3.8),
weekend work (OR, 1.8; 95% CI, 1.1-3.1), and sexual remarks made to the worker
by clients (OR, 2.0; 95% CI, 1.2-3.5). Receipt of weapon threats was associated
with worker's male sex (OR, 5.7; 95% CI, 2.4-15.3), white ethnicity (OR, 4.0;
95% CI, 1.8-9.3), age of 40 years or older (OR, 2.5; 95% CI, 1.1-5.8), work
experience of 5 years or longer (OR, 2.7; 95% CI, 1.2-6.0), rural work (OR,
3.6; 95% CI, 1.3-10.1), being alone with the opposite sex (OR, 3.7; 95% CI,
1.6-9.7), and interaction with homeless clients (OR, 5.2; 95% CI, 1.7-18.8).
Physical attacks were associated with sexual remarks made to the worker by
clients (OR, 4.2; 95% CI, 1.4-13.9). No risk factors predicting rape were
Conclusions.— Violence directed toward public field-workers is a common occupational
hazard. An assessment of what situations, clients, and locations pose the
risk of violence to public health workers is needed.