Workplace violence: ‘Anywhere, anytime’
Dale Regan’s death Tuesday, which police said was at the hands of a fired teacher, bears out the national statistic that homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace.
According to police, the 63-year-old head of school at the private Episcopal School of Jacksonville was shot and killed Tuesday by 28-year-old Shane Schumerth, a Spanish teacher who was fired earlier in the day. He then killed himself.
As the school, police and the community grapple with the deaths, area organizations likely are reviewing their security and employment policies to determine how to prevent such a tragedy.
It’s not a simple exercise.
“The sad but true fact is all such incidents cannot realistically be prevented. If someone is sick or intent enough to commit such an act there is often nothing that can be done to ensure total prevention short of turning our society into a police state,” said Michael Freed, managing partner of the Brennan, Manna & Diamond firm in Jacksonville. His practice includes business and corporate law.
“The best a business or institution can do is take reasonable steps to detect and respond to unusual behavior and, when the worst happens, have in place protocol to contain it,” said Freed, president of The Jacksonville Bar Association.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that homicide is currently the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the country. Citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it said that of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2010, more than one in 10 — 506 — were workplace homicides.
The statistics hit home especially for women. “Homicide is the leading cause of death for women in the workplace,” said the department in a report.
The department defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.
“It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide,” it reports. “It can affect and involve employees, clients, customers and visitors,” it said.
Annually, almost 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence, according to the department. It said many more cases go unreported.
“The truth is, workplace violence can strike anywhere, anytime, and no one is immune,” it said.
The department said research identified factors that can increase the risk of violence for some workers, such as those who are:
• Exchanging money with the public.
• Working with volatile, unstable people.
• Working alone or in isolated areas.
• Working where alcohol is served.
• Working late at night or in areas with high crime rates.
The department said that workers with higher risks could include delivery drivers, health care professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel and those who work alone or in small groups.
It said that in most workplaces, risk factors can be identified to prevent or minimize the risk of assault, starting with a “zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence” that covers all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors and anyone else who might come in contact with company personnel.
“By assessing their worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring,” said the department.
Freed said there are warning signs.
“One of the most obvious is after an adverse employment action, especially a firing. It is good to be on guard after such an activity takes place, particularly if the impacted employee has demonstrated erratic behavior or made threats,” Freed said.
(Details of Schumerth’s firing were not immediately available.)
The Labor Department said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration believes that a well written and implemented “Workplace Violence Prevention Program,” combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces.
“It is critical to ensure that all workers know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly,” it said.
However, workplace policies cannot be expected to stop all events.
“Even the best policies cannot prevent all tragedies, particularly when someone is intent on committing them. An effective policy can prevent some tragedy and can contain the harm and minimize the impact when there is an incident,” Freed said.
A U.S. Department of Justice report in March 2011 said that among workplace homicides between 2005-09, more than one in four involved victims in sales and related occupations and almost one in five involved victims in protective service occupations.
Among other statistics about workplace homicides:
• While 70 percent of workplace homicides were committed by robbers and other assailants, about 21 percent were committed by work associates.
• Shootings accounted for 80 percent of workplace homicides.
• Less than 1 percent — 0.6 percent of workplace homicide victims — are in education, training and library professions.
• By age, 69 percent of victims were 25-54 years old. About 15 percent were 55-64 years old.
• Victims from 19-24 accounted for 9.6 percent of victims, and those 65 and older were 6.3 percent.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation developed a Workplace Violence report. For a copy, email or call through the contact information below.
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