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Workplace Violence: Tragic Shootings at Henderson Plant Raise Important Issues


It's just total shock. It's something you read about in the paper[,] what happened at one of our facilities.

― Atlantis Plastics CEO Bud Philbrook, The Associated Press, June 25, 2008.

An Atlantis Plastics employee in Henderson was escorted from the building after fighting with his supervisor. He returned with a gun. After shooting the supervisor outside the building, he shot employees in the break room and on the production floor and then shot himself. When it was all over, six employees were dead, including the shooter. Unfortunately, we read the words of shocked and saddened company representatives all too often. Workplace violence is far too common. It affects the families of the victims as well as the employer, its employees, and its customers.

We extend our sincere condolences to all those affected by this tragedy. It serves as a reminder that violence doesn't end at the gate, the loading dock, the office, or the store. It's a fact of life that prudent employers must address with responsible planning. In this article, we outline some of the actions you can take to prevent incidents of workplace violence.

The (sad) facts

Workplace violence isn't a new phenomenon in our society, but it was scarcely noticed before the last decade. The relatively recent shift of attention to the problem is due in large part to the focus of the media. Nearly nine years ago, a gunman opened fire at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and day camp in Los Angeles, wounding two employees and three children and then proceeding to kill a mail carrier in a nearby community. Since then, we've endured a steady stream of similar incidents. News of attacks is relayed instantly across the country and the world.

While these sensational acts of violence have heightened our awareness about workplace violence, they are not representative of the majority of violent scenarios plaguing employers today. Rather, workplace violence is a continuous threat claiming members of our workforce on a daily basis.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists homicide as the fourth leading cause of fatal occupational injury for workers in the United States and the second leading cause of fatal injury for women in the workplace. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that there are 17 workplace murders and 33,000 workplace assaults each week in this country.

NIOSH has identified a number of risk factors for workplace assault, including:

  • having contact with the public;
  • exchanging money;
  • delivering passengers, goods, or services;
  • having a mobile workplace such as a taxicab or police cruiser;
  • working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social services, or criminal justice settings;
  • working alone or in small numbers;
  • working late at night or during early morning hours;
  • working in high-crime areas;
  • guarding valuable property or possessions; and
  • working in community-based settings.

Clearly, the potential for workplace violence, whether originating within the organization or as the result of contact with individuals on the outside, is very real for most if not all Kentucky employers ― many of which are unprepared for such an event. An adequate plan can minimize or even prevent violent incidents in the workplace.

Implement plans and procedures 

OSHA joins a number of states and organizations in recognizing the need for guidance for employers seeking to reduce their employees' exposure to the risk of workplace violence. The agency has released guidelines for workplace violence programs addressing five basic elements.

    1. Management commitment and employee involvement. This element may simply include clear, communicated goals for worker security on smaller sites or a written program for larger organizations. All violent or threatening behavior should be taken seriously. Management should develop a plan for workplace security, which should include employees working with police and other public safety agencies to improve physical security.

    2. Work site analysis. An effective analysis involves identifying high-risk situations through employee surveys, workplace walk-throughs, and review of injury/illness data. It also should include a review of past incidents, a complete security review, and a schedule of periodic safety audits.

    3. Hazard prevention and control. This element calls for designing engineering, administrative, and work practice controls that will prevent or limit violent incidents. Examples of controls include the use of adequate lighting, installing video surveillance cameras, establishing physical barriers, and using drop safes or similar equipment. OSHA also recommends limiting areas of customer/public access, increasing staffing at night, and establishing an emergency communications procedure and standard operating procedure for both management and employees to follow in the aftermath of a violent incident.

    4. Training and education. Training in the emergency communications procedure and standard operating procedure is essential in ensuring that employees, supervisors, and security personnel know about potential security hazards and ways to protect themselves and their coworkers.

    5. Evaluation. This element calls for employers to develop a process that will help them assess risk factors, evaluate methods of hazard control, and identify training needs. To do this, OSHA recommends solid record-keeping practices, incident reports, police recommendations, and notes of safety meetings.

Other resources 
While the information presented in this article gives you a guide to follow, it may not be enough if you wish to implement a comprehensive program for workplace violence prevention. OSHA has made a complete list of resources available online

Oregon also has developed an online training course entitled "Developing a Violence Prevention Program," which leads participants through a step-by-step procedure for the evaluation, development, and implementation of a violence prevention program. You can access the materials for the course online

Reality sets in 
The time has come for prudent employers to develop and implement a violence prevention program for their workplace. No employer or workplace is immune from the threat. The failure to establish a program now may result in tragedy later.

If you have any questions or need help, please contact any member of the Greenebaum Doll & McDonald Labor and Employment Department.

Copyright 2008 M. Lee Smith Publishers LLC 
KENTUCKY EMPLOYMENT LAW LETTER does not attempt to offer solutions to individual problems but rather to provide information about current developments in Kentucky employment law.  Questions about individual problems should be addressed to the employment law attorney of your choice.

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