What happened on that terrible Friday, the 13th day of January 2012, clearly illustrates that an act of workplace violence can happen anywhere and at anytime.
According to authorities, a 50 year-old employee of a rural lumber company in North Carolina entered his employer’s warehouse, approached specific co-workers and opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun. The aftermath left three people dead and a fourth worker fighting for his life. After the shooting, the alleged perpetrator fled to his home and apparently shot himself with a handgun. It was reported that after being rushed to a hospital, the alleged shooter died.
According to the county’s Sheriff, the contents of a rambling six-page letter found at the home of the alleged shooter indicated that he “felt that he was being picked on or harassed at work.” The Sheriff also indicated that the letter recounted instances where a language barrier between English-speaking and Hispanic coworkers may have played a critical role in the shooting.
Conflict Is Unavoidable, Violence Is Not
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 3,000 people died from workplace homicide between 2006 and 2010 and the primary situations leading to those homicides were conflicts between individuals who knew each other. Hayes International’s team has learned a number of warning signs that may signal that a coworker is likely to commit an act of targeted violence such as the January 2012 incident described above. We have also learned that all workplaces are at risk for this type of violence. Unfortunately, our experiences indicate that some employers are even at greater risk simply because they failed to include two of the more critical anti-violence safeguards in their organization’s prevention program. Those two most strategies are:
1) Background checks. We are strong proponents of that age-old theory, “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior”. Therefore, the very first step in any anti-violence program should begin at the point of hire. A comprehensive background screening program can readily identify applicants and employees who have and history of unacceptable behavior. This type of background check should include not only local and national criminal data resources, drug testing, required educational and license verifications, but also a five-year check of previous employment, as well. Furthermore, to promote a greater level of safety and security for employees and customers, it is vital to conduct regular screening of your extended work force including repair and service personnel, construction workers, food service workers and virtually every non-employee that is interacting with your personnel and customers. In addition, consideration should also be given to re-screening current employees and your extended workforce on an annual basis.
2) Conflict resolution. As the above lumber company’s horrific situation appears to reveal, issues of harassment and discrimination (both real and perceived) must be stopped before they have opportunity to manifest into a violent act. It is critical that both management and employees be well-trained in what actions that each should take when a threatening act is either suspected or observed.
Employees should be required to report all threats or assaults to management. They should also be briefed on procedures for requesting police assistance and/or in the process of filing appropriate criminal charges, and help provided where necessary.
Supervisory personnel should be trained in conflict resolution and understand how to apply the skills necessary to defuse a threatening or hostile situation prior to it getting out of hand.
In a recent directive entitled Enforcement Procedures for Investigating or Inspecting Workplace Violence Incidents (CPL 02-01-052, September 8, 2011), OSHA outlined seven important steps that employers can take to minimize the risk of violence in the workplace. Check out: