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Paul M. D'Amore
Paul M. D'Amore

Founding Member, Trial Lawyer

Workplace Violence: Statistics, Warning Signs, and Improving Safety

Our entire country continues to follow the horrifying events in Annapolis last week when an active shooter changed the lives of everyone in the Capital Gazette building . What’s being labeled as a targeted attack tragically ended in the death of five journalists working at the local newspaper when a shooter entered the building armed with a shotgun and smoke grenades. The suspect who was taken into custody after the devastating incident had filed a defamation lawsuit against the Capital Gazette back in 2012, allegedly, leading to the murder of the innocent journalists.



Workplace Shootings: The New Norm

Americans have endured a number of brutal workplace shootings in the past few decades that have shaken our citizens’ sense of safety to the core:

  • Edgewater Technology Inc (MA): In December 2000, an employee at a Massachusetts internet consulting firm, Edgewater Technology Inc., killed seven of his coworkers before apprehended by police. Reports state the shooter was supposed to have his wages garnished after the holidays because of delinquent tax payments, which was believed to be the motive behind the attack.
  • Hartford Beer Distributor (CT): After a driver at the Hartford Beer Distributor in Connecticut was caught stealing, he resigned from his position only to return on a shooting spree. The shooter killed eight people and injured two before killing himself after the rampage.
  • Accent Signage Systems (MN): When an employee was fired from his job back in September 2012 at Accent Signage Systems and no one could have predicted what happened next. The employee returned with a 9mm Glock, killing the two managers who let him go along with five other employees. The shooter turned the gun on himself before he could be taken by police.

Violent attacks in the workplace, particularly those with the use of deadly firearms, are becoming more frequent than ever before- some are spontaneous, some planned, and others are conducted completely at random. It’s inconceivable to think that a worker in any industry should have to fear their coworkers or any other individual while on the job, yet these tragedies continue to occur, taking the lives of more innocent American workers every year.

The Statistics on Workplace Violence

Homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the United States, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Though the media may only show us the worst outcomes of workplace violence, there are several other methods employees may use prior to gun violence that could affect the culture and safety of the workplace.

OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. Examples of these could be:

  • threats of physical violence
  • verbal abuse
  • physical assaults
  • homicide

When examining past examples of violence in the workplace, the shooter is not always a disgruntled employee. OSHA identifies five main categories of workplace violence have caused massive fatalities in the past:

  • Violence by Strangers: Individuals who have no relationship with employee or employer (ex: robber)
  • Violence by Customers/Clients: Individual who has done business in one way or another with the company (received a service or product, etc.)
  • Violence by Co-Workers: Individual works or has previously worked for the company
  • Violence by Personal Relations: Individual who has some sort of personal relationship with an employee or employer outside of the work environment.

According to a report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 500 workers were victims of homicide while on the job in 2016 and 16,890 others suffered from non-fatal injuries due to homicidal attempts. Nearly 2 million American workers have formally reported to OSHA that they have been a victim of workplace violence- a statistic that is also severely underreported.

Workplace violence can get out of control quickly. However, it doesn’t happen overnight. Knowing what to look for when it comes to signs of workplace violence and the threat of a shooting attack at your workplace is a skill that all employers and employees should be trained on to help keep everyone safe on the job.

Warning Signs of Workplace Violence

In the aftermath of a terrifying act of workplace violence such as a shooting, it’s not uncommon to hear from coworkers that maybe they weren’t completely surprised. Pinpointing when and where workplace violence is going take place may be impossible, but looking for the warning signs that an employee may act out violently could save your life and the lives of others around you.

The National Safety Council identifies the following warning signs that may serve as early indicators an employee could act out violently against others at work:

  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Unexplained work absences
  • Change in behavior at work
  • Decline in job performance
  • Depression or withdrawal
  • Self-harming or suicidal comments
  • Resistance to changes at work
  • Persistent complaining about unfair treatment
  • Violation(s) of company policies
  • Emotional response to criticism
  • Mood swings
  • Paranoia

The American Psychiactric Association also identifies additional risk factors that could predict violent tendencies, both from employees or others outside of the workplace looking to cause harm:

  • Divorce
  • Personal stressors
  • Relationship issues
  • Threats from outside parties

Alone, these risk factors may not lead to any violent tendencies, but the APA research shows a combination of these risk factors may highlight individuals more at risk for violent behavior.  These warning signs are not the only indicators that someone will commit a horrifying crime, but they should always be monitored and reported to the proper work officials just in case.

Mental Illness and Violence

It’s a common misconception that only people with mental illnesses commit unspeakable crimes such as mass shootings. Research performed by the APA shows that less than 1% of mass shootings are carried out by people with serious mental illness, along with only 3% of overall violent crime. Gun restriction laws tend to focus on keeping firearms away from the mentally ill; however, with little research to link gun violence to mental illness, employers are safer to use the warning signs above as a prediction of violent behavior than focusing on employees with a history of mental illness.

How to Make Your Workplace Safer

Workplace tragedies may not come with obvious warning signs, but there are steps employers and companies can take to prepare employees for threats of violence and help them take action to protect themselves if an attack occurs.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) recommends beginning with a physical survey of the workplace as an assessment for determining your current level of safety. The assessment should include looking at all current entrances, security methods, procedures, and building accommodations to assess which areas may need upgraded security and what hazards should be removed. Using the information gathered from the initial assessment, SHRM suggests crafting a security plan for employees and employers to initiate in the case of workplace attack:

  • Identify tools you might use to secure your workplace.
  • Create a facility map that marks all doors, security cameras, and stairwells.
  • Devise a plan for access control.
  • Ensure security cameras are positioned where you need them.
  • Consider hiring security guards. Many facilities contract with security companies to provide guards.
  • Address how to secure particularly vulnerable areas.
  • Conduct a periodic review of security measures.
  • Devise a plan for communicating with employees in the event of a security emergency.
  • Create a system for tracking security issues.
  • Designate a spokesperson to issue communications in the event of an incident.

Preparing for the chance of a violent attack is not always easy. Luckily, several national safety groups are dedicated to helping out by providing trainings and resources to employers looking for safer workplaces:

  • OSHA: Offers online presentations, reference materials, training resources and online prevention programs for employers.
  • National Safety Council: Offers training, emergency action plan help, training exercises and information creating an action plan.

If you need additional help in knowing where to start, there are numerous workplace violence consulting firms that can assist your company in identifying warning signs, safety hazards, and creating a plan to react to violence on the job.

Positive Work Culture

In addition to planning for safety, employers should also be aware that work culture can have a significant influence on violence in the workplace. To proactively prevent the risk of violent attacks, EHS Today suggests managers and supervisors strive to ensure their workplace does not foster bullying, violence, or harassment. Methods to help create a positive and supportive work environment for their employees include:

  • Promoting sincere, open and timely communication among managers, employees, organizations
  • Offering support for professional development
  • Fostering a family-friendly work environment
  • Promoting quality of life and job satisfaction
  • Maintaining a system for complaints and concerns and allow them to be express in non-judgmental forum.
  • Maintaining impartial and consistent discipline for employees who exhibit improper conduct and poor performance

Protect MD Workers From Violence

No American should have to fear their place of employment. Violence in the workplace of any kind is completely unnecessary and all employers need to be prepared to protect their employees from violent threats and attacks. If you or a loved one have been a victim of workplace violence, D’Amore Law is here to fight for you. Our winning team will fight for your right to safety at work and provide a free case evaluation to explore all your options in seeking justice for your injuries.

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