Sep 27 2010

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Editorial: Work to reduce workplace violence

from JournalStar.com

Shocking as it was, the workplace shooting this week at the Americold Logistics plant in Crete is not all that rare.

A graphic in Friday’s Journal Star showed that every year several Nebraskans die as a result of violence in the workplace.

The statistic may be somewhat misleading, in that the reason for the shooting may have nothing to do with the conditions or events in the workplace itself. For example, the Nebraska death toll in 2007 was higher because of the shootings at the Von Maur store in Omaha.

An employee killed in a robbery would be counted as a workplace homicide by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example. The death of a person killed in a workplace by a spouse as part of a domestic dispute also would be counted.

Over the five years from 2004 to 2008, there were an average of 564 work-related homicides in the United States, according to the federal agency.

Many unanswered questions remain in the incident at Crete. So far no one knows why Akouch Kashoual opened fire on fellow employees in the second floor break room at the plant, and then killed himself with a shot to the head.

The victims included a supervisor, Paul Rivera, and two other employees, Rene Villarreal and Elizabeth Canas. Amazingly, physicians say they expect Canas to make a full recovery even though she was shot 11 times. The outcome of the shooting could have been much worse.

“The only way to guarantee you never become a victim of a workplace shooting is to be self-employed,” Northeastern University criminology Professor James Alan Fox told MSNBC last month.

But the risk can be lowered. “Employers think it can’t happen here and that it can’t be prevented, and that’s false,” Patrick Fiel of the national security company ADT told the Journal Star.

What is not shown in government statistics are the times when horrific incidents like this are averted by timely intervention.

Warning signs include dramatic changes in attitude, behavior and work ethic, threats of harm and displays of belligerent and aggressive behavior. Employers can help with policies such as zero tolerance for workplace violence, an anonymous tip line for concerns about suspicious behavior, annual background checks and other measures.

It’s inevitable that the break room shooting in Crete will be followed by other incidents. But by taking the proper steps, managers, colleagues and loved ones can reduce the possibility that it will happen in their own workplace.

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