Aug 06 2010

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Expert: Intervening Early Can Prevent Workplace Shootings

By David Lohr, AOL News

Early intervention and observation of warnings signs can prevent workplace violence, an expert said today, a day after a driver carried out the deadliest workplace shooting in Connecticut history.

Omar Thornton gunned down eight people at Hartford Distributors, a beer distribution company in Manchester, before taking his own life, police said.

Police have yet to comment on a possible motive, but Dr. Park Dietz, a workplace violence expert, told AOL News the focus should be on determining what might have been done to prevent the incident.

“Was the process for pre-employment screening done properly? The odds of a case like this occurring with proper pre-employment screening are vanishingly low,” said Dietz, founder of the Threat Assessment Group. “[Employers]

Thornton, who was black, had complained about being racially harassed at work, according to Joanne Hannah, whose daughter had dated Thornton for eight years. Hannah told The Associated Press that Thornton had found a picture of a noose and a racial epithet hanging on a bathroom wall at Hartford Distributors, where he had worked for about two years.

Company and union officials said they had no information about alleged racial harassment.

Thornton, 34, embarked on the rampage just after a disciplinary hearing in which he was forced to resign after being confronted by videotape showing him stealing beer from the company, officials said.

The shooting spree is the worst case of workplace violence since an Army psychiatrist allegedly gunned down 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in November.

Dietz said complaints of harassment, injustice and workplace bullying are not uncommon in incidents of workplace violence.

“The number of people whose productivity is harmed because they are subject to threats, intimidation, bullying and verbal abuse is millions per year,” Dietz said. “It is as big a problem as depression, maybe even bigger.”

The Workplace Bullying Institute has found that workplace bullying is a substantial problem. The institute conducted one of the largest polls about workplace bullying in 2007, the most recent study available. It found that 37 percent of the U.S. workforce had been bullied while on the job.

Whether or not workplace bullying was a factor in the Manchester shooting rampage is yet to be seen, but there are often warning signs, Dietz said.

“[Workplace shootings are] an angry form of suicide, and 100 percent of the killers provide multiple warnings to those around them,” he said.

Those warnings signs, which have previously been identified by Dietz, can include:

– Threats and intimidating comments
– Inappropriate communications to co-workers or superiors
– Documenting, researching, surveilling or stalking potential victims
– Anger
– Depression or suicidal thoughts
– Paranoia, feeling persecuted or conspired against
– Repeatedly accusing other people of causing one’s problems
– Litigiousness or unreasonable grievances

Dietz said the tools to bringing down workplace violence statistics are available, but more often than not, companies don’t take action until after a serious incident has occurred.

“[Companies] don’t have access to expertise in forensic psychiatry or criminal behavior analysis,” he said. “They need to train everyone to report to human resources, security or management any concerns about harassment, bullying or intimidation. Incidents can be prevented with early intervention, but unfortunately, [this] is how some of our business comes to us — after a company has experienced a shooting incident.”

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