Workplace Terror in Manchester, Connecticut

Yesterday a tragic story unfolded in Manchester,  Connecticut.   You probably already know that nine people were killed when an employee who was being fired, came back in with his hand gun,  started shooting and, after calling his mother, killed himself. 

This incident is part of a bigger and growing trend to more workplace violence incidents – not only in companies in general, but in hospitals to an even greater degree.  The Manchester incident also illustrates again some of the basic tenets of preventing workplace violence incidents. 

Patrick Fiel, Public Safety Advisor for ADT Security, commented, “The industry standard is to not  terminate employees in open areas where other individuals may be working.   Firings are always touchy situations and should be conducted in an isolated areas, even off-site, away from the work areas.”  

“Many companies have crisis plans in place, and also conduct security risk assessments annually  to prevent this kind of incident.   A comprehensive security assessment  might have saved nine lives by setting up procedures for the termination; and additionally, by making sure employees knew what to do when he did draw his gun.” 

I have been reviewing workplace violence incidents in healthcare and find that they have skyrocketed since the recession started.   Violence against supervisors, managers and also nurses and other healthcare workers has spiked significantly.

 It is surprising to read the following statement on the osha.gov web site:

There are currently no specific standards for workplace violence. However, this page highlights Federal Registers (rules, proposed rules, and notices) and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to workplace violence.

Section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA Act, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”. Section 5(a)(2) requires employers to “comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act”.”

It might be time for OSHA to develop some workplace violence prevention standards.  Many of the ones we use in our risk assessments are related to standard security safeguards – such as having a written termination policy; making sure that if  worker at one location is fired, that all other locations are notified so he can’t just go to another office and cause an incident. 

Much of the statistical data we found on the OSHA website were at least six years out of date, which makes it harder to track current trends in workplace incidents, unless you catalog the media-reported events and run an analysis on them.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported  “Mass shootings receive a great deal of coverage in the media, as we saw with the Orlando, Fla. office shootings in November 2009 and in the shootings at the manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, N.M. in July 2010.  Out of 421 workplace shootings recorded in 2008 (8 percent of total fatal injuries),  99 (24 percent) occurred in retail trade.  Workplace shootings in manufacturing were less common, with 17 shootings reported in 2008.  Workplace shooting events account for only a small portion of nonfatal workplace injuries.” from http://www.bls.gov/iif/.

It makes me wonder if the workplace violence statistics from 2008 until now may be such a large increase, that has been either underreported or even held from publication!

According to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — “State of the Sector/Healthcare and Social Assistance” — published in 2009, health care workers are more than three times as likely as workers in other industries to be injured by acts of violence.

“Health care workers are at risk for verbal, psychological and physical violence,” the report says. “Violent acts occur during interactions with patients, family, visitors, coworkers and supervisors. “Working with volatile people or people under heightened stress, long wait times for service, understaffing, patients or visitors under the influence of drugs or alcohol, access to weapons, inadequate security, and poor environmen­tal design, are among the risk factors for violence,” the report continues.

In the current economic environment, the physical security (facility) risk assessment can be used as an important tool in making sure that basic industry standards for preventing workplace violence incidents; or limiting the damage they can do – especially for making sure the staff are protected from violent incidents by their co-workers.

The security assessment can be followed by the creation of specific, detailed crisis plans that make sure people know what to do when the unthinkable happens at work.  One of the reasons that workplace violence incidents are so upsetting to all of us is because the person KNEW the people he was killing.  He probably knew their spouses and met their children at a company picnic.  It makes the violence more personal and scary, a whole different thing than falling off a ladder.   And it reminds us all that it COULD happen here!

4 thoughts on “Workplace Terror in Manchester, Connecticut

  1. As we come to grips with the tragedy at Hartford Distributors it’s important not to conflate injuries due to workplace violence, workplace homicide, and workplace mass murder.

    Most INJURIES due to workplace violence occur in hospitals, specifically in mental health care settings.

    The great majority of workplace HOMICIDES occur during robberies of retail establishments – especially at night, and of service providers – especially cab drivers. Of the 7606 persons killed at work between 1997 and 2008, 5809 were killed by “robbers or other assailants.”

    We should be careful not to let lurid media coverage of these tragedies give us a false impression as to their frequency or severity. Depending on whose numbers you choose the number of workplace homicide between 1980 and 2008 seem to have remained relatively constant (Over the same interval the working population has increased which might be expected to reduce the rate).

    1980-1989: 7603 total (760 per yr)

    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/updates/94-101.html

    1980-1992: 9937 total (764 per yr)

    http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/violhomi.html

    1993-2002: 8148 total (815 per yr)

    http://www.caepv.org/membercenter/files/workplace_homicide_trends_ajim.pdf

    1997-2008: 7606 total (633 per yr)

    http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/work_hom.pdf

    Remember, year to year 75% of all these killings occurred during robberies. The balance was perpetrated by work associates, relatives, and other personal acquaintances.

    Your statement “It makes me wonder if the workplace violence statistics from 2008 until now may be such a large increase, that has been either underreported or even held from publication!” strikes me as alarmist. Federally provided numbers regarding such incidents routinely lag a year or two due to the realities of data collection and publication. We need not attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by our federal bureaucracies.

    As for Patrick Fiel’s opinions, unless he has inside knowledge of the precise situation and decision-making process at Hartford Distributors I respectfully submit it is premature for him to comment on the situation, or be quoted as an authority in this case.

    Mr. Fiel’s suggestion that terminations should be conducted somewhere other than the office is an interesting notion. In over 30 years of work experience most employees receive corrective action, participate in disciplinary hearings, or are terminated, in the building (or on the campus) where they work. Of course it goes without saying all but the smallest fraction of these actions are completed without incident.

    Fiel states as fact “Obviously this company didn’t have a crisis plan in place, and hadn’t done a risk assessment for the facility. A simple assessment might have saved nine lives by setting up procedures for the termination; and additionally, by making sure employees knew what to do when he did draw his gun.” While every business should have an active workplace violence prevention program in place, having a crisis plan and successfully averting a disaster is not one in the same. Unless and until the details of this horrible tragedy are revealed we will not know what happened. Why the rush to judgment?

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