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Disgruntled and dangerous

July 12, 2009
By MARYANN THEISS, Family Recovery Center

Going postal has entered the lexicon as a disgruntled employee going berserk and wreaking violence in the workplace. In these days of massive layoffs, the odds of a disgruntled employee taking out his/her frustration in the workplace go up.

'Hours after being laid off, a product test engineer returned to his former place of employment to clean out his desk. Co-workers said he suddenly became agitated and entered the office of the company CEO. What co-workers did not know was that the former employee had brought a 9 mm pistol to the office. The next thing the workers heard was a rapid succession of gunshots. When the shots ended, the CEO, a vice president, and the head of human resources were all dead.'

In most cases, there are warning signs before an event happens, noting such things as anger, alterations in hygiene, attendance issues, depression and appearing withdrawn all serve as red flags. Employers need to understand the psyche of individuals they are dealing with.

According to Ray Pettit, a security consultant working with violence issues for 20 years, acts of workplace violence often are perpetrated by longtime employees who are angered by ill treatment - real or imagined. In some cases, the anger eventually explodes in an act of violence.

PREVENTION: Nicholas Dillon, director of education and risk services for Brookfield, WI based Aegis Corp. notes it should be the responsibility of the company to prevent acts of violence in the workplace. Yet, 70% of all workplaces have no prevention plan. To get a reading of how the employees believe they are treated by management and co-workers can be uncomfortable and fosters reluctance toward beginning a program. Further, acts of violence are unique situations that many employers have not been properly trained to handle. "Workplace violence is not your everyday safety hazard it's often referred to as the "orphan" security problem."

ZERO TOLERANCE: Considering your workplace's culture will help tailor a plan that specifically addresses your employees' needs. "It's a program that you can't really cookie-cut." Dillon recommends that all employers enforce a zero-tolerance approach where acts of violence or threats are quickly addressed. Maintaining open communication with employees is the first line of defense in workplace violence prevention. If anything is going to happen, employees typically are going to know it before managers and executives. They need to know the warning signs and they need to know the employer's position on it. Ray Pettit adds that another critical component is . . ."to ensure that troubled employees feel they were treated with dignity and respect." Empathy is critical.

EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Unfortunately, no matter how many precautions you take in the workplace to prevent violence from occurring, there's never any guarantee. "If an attacker is intent on harming someone, he can," Pettit said. "When imminent violence is possible, it is too late to deal with the situation." Unlike intruders, employees know the layout, security measures, the limits and weaknesses of the organization's security capabilities and when and where their targets will be most vulnerable. In such cases, having a prepared workplace can save lives. We have plans for fire and extreme weather, but rarely for what to do for potential acts of violence. Evacuation is not likely to be the safest strategy in there's a gunman roaming the halls. Getting behind a piece of furniture or something to stay hidden may be the preferred route. Employees should know about well protected or bulletproof areas.

Employers can be cited by OSHA for now providing employees with a safe work environment. Understanding the workplace culture and establishing a violence prevention program may not be a guarantee against acts of violence, but it can go a long way toward providing a safe work environment.

Source: Excerpt from "Disgruntled and Dangerous" by Lauretta Claussen, Associate Editor of Safety+ Health magazine, a publication of the National Safety Council.

Family Recovery Center promotes the well being of individuals, families and communities. There is help available if you are struggling with stress. FRC can be reached at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, info@familyrecovery.org. FRC is funded in part by United Way of Northern Columbiana County.

 
 

 

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