The Killer in the Next Cubicle: The Growing Epidemic of Workplace Violence and Three Ways to Minimize Risk

By Kathleen M. Bonczyk, MBA, Esq. aEUR" founder of the Workplace Violence Prevention Institute In the six-month period from August 2015 through February 2016, three catastrophic episodes of deadly workplace violence occurred on the east coast, the west coast and in America's heartland. August 2015: 2 dead/1 injured- In Virginia, a disgruntled ex-employee shot and killed two former colleagues: 24-year-old WDBJ7-TV news reporter Alison Parker, and 27-year-old videographer Adam Ward live on television. Ward was filming Parker as she interviewed a chamber of commerce executive Vicki Gardener who was also seriously injured but survived probably only because the killer's glock ran out of bullets. December 2015: 14 dead/22 injured- In California, a county health inspector and his wife burst into a rented banquet room where approximately 80 of his colleagues were attending a combined holiday party and training session. The killers conducted a mass shooting and an attempted bombing during the attack. February 2016: 3 dead/14 injured- In Kansas, a painter shot and killed three people and injured 14 more at the lawn care company where he worked called Excel Industries. A co-worker reported that approximately two hours after theyaEUR(TM)d clocked in, he saw the perpetrator begin shooting at people in the factoryaEUR(TM)s parking lot. This occurred after the shooter had reportedly been served with a restraining order at work associated with an ongoing domestic dispute. --------------------------------------------------- Many years ago when I was employed as a human resources director for a health care company, my responsibilities included serving as a member of my employer's safety committee. Then as now health care professionals were particularly susceptible to experience occupational injuries at the hands of patients and occasionally their family members or friends. My employer wanted to take a proactive position and identify ways to prevent our employees from being victims. In those days when the topic of workplace violence came up, our greatest concern focused on such incidents as those involved heated words or in the worst case scenario perhaps a shoving match. Never could I have ever imagined that one day I would write this article or conduct the type of research that I do on an ongoing basis which frequently involves profiles of American workers who have been murdered by aEURoefriendly fireaEUR? aEUR" not strangers but colleagues. Workplace violence cannot be taken lightly. Outdated notions of aEURoeIt canaEUR(TM)t happen hereaEUR? or aEURoeit cannot happen to meaEUR? must be disregarded. Employee safety should be a top priority for every organization. The following three tips can help minimize risk of violence.
  1. Encourage Employees to Speak Up.
If any employee is concerned about the conduct of others in the workplace, he/she should be told to listen to their internal voice rather than disregarding it. Some employees believe that by ignoring inappropriate words or conduct it will dissipate or disappear. Sometimes it does. Other times unfortunately it escalates. Thus, employees should be advised to report safety concerns to a human resources officer, supervisor or other appropriate party. It goes without saying that organizational leaders should never look the other way if they observe or become aware of inappropriate workplace behaviors. If there is an immediate threat or concern for safety, law enforcement should be contacted.
  1. Safety CommitteeaEUR(TM)s Role.
Workplace violence and its prevention should be placed on the safety committeeaEUR(TM)s meeting agenda. It should be studied, addressed, and discussed at least as frequently as such things as occupational accidents and injuries are. The safety committee must be empowered to do its job effectively. For example, there should be a mechanism in place to ensure that that when employees exercise internal human resources grievance procedures to report conduct that includes episodes of workplace violence, said information is to be brought to the safety committeeaEUR(TM)s attention. Too often it is not. Safety committees should be comprised of individuals throughout an organizationaEUR(TM)s hierarchy from line staff to the highest-ranking management official or his/her designee. This will ensure feedback and representation from throughout the workplace. The safety committee must do more than simply discuss workplace safety during meetings. The commitment to develop a safe working environment should be ongoing. Safety committee members should see their role from a proactive perspective with the fundamental focus being on recommending ways to prevent future violence from occurring. For instance, the safety committee should develop appropriate written safety procedures and protocols. All-employee training sessions designed to educate staff as to what workplace violence is and specific steps to take to voice any concerns should be regularly conducted. Additionally, if such external sources as the organizationaEUR(TM)s employee practices liability insurer or workeraEUR(TM)s compensation carrier offers training or proposed standardized written policies, the organization should take advantage of same. When workplace violence takes its deadliest form, law enforcement is always contacted. Law enforcement should be considered as an additional resource for prevention-related activities. Management should consult with the local authorities and obtain their advice regarding workplace safety, invite them to meet with the safety committee and participate in employee training sessions.
  1. Behavioral-Based Interviewing.
One of the best ways to develop a safe workplace is to avoid hiring employees who are disruptive and who have been behavioral problems with past employers. In other words, avoid mis-hires and only bring on board the best candidates for all job openings.

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