Last month, a gunman burst through the doors of a Greensboro lumber company, killing three and critically wounding a fourth. Authorities later found him at his home, also critically wounded from a self-inflicted gunshot, a rambling manifesto beside him.
Our North Carolina workers' compensation attorneys understand authorities soon learned that the shooter also worked at the plant. They are exploring the possibility that he may have lashed out after suffering some form of workplace harassment.
The incident unfolded at the same time the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its 2013 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries report. The annual study analyzes the fatal workplaces injuries that occur each year in the U.S. - including those that involve violence.
What the agency discovered was that homicidal acts carried out at work overwhelmingly involved firearms - about 80 percent.
Between 2006 and 2010, an average of 550 employees were killed annually in work-related homicides. In 2010, the most recent year with available data, there were nearly 520 workplace homicides, accounting for more than 10 percent of all workplace fatalities this year. Of those, nearly 80 were multiple-fatality homicides, just like in Greensboro, where two or more people were killed.
It's also worth noting that despite the term "going postal," the vast majority of these incidents didn't involve government workers. In fact, 83 percent of these incidents occurred in private-sector businesses. About a dozen incidents occurred in schools, but that really only accounted for about 4 percent. The retail trade industry meanwhile accounted for nearly 30 percent of all fatal workplace shootings. The leisure and hospitality industry accounted for 15 percent, while transportation and warehousing accounted for 8 percent.
And again, we're only talking about those incidents that result in death. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration estimates that roughly 2 million workers suffer some form of workplace violence each year.
What all of this tells us is that situations like what happened in Greensboro last month aren't some tragic fluke. It's a serious problem that requires the careful consideration by employers to put preventative systems in place.
Some things to keep in mind when deciding what type of systems might be most effective:
- Four out of every five workplace homicide victims are men;
- Robbers and other assailants accounted for more than 70 percent of homicides to men, but 37 percent of those involving women;
- Relatives or acquaintances were responsible for nearly 40 percent of workplace homicides involving women;
- Individuals with no prior personal relationship to the victims accounted for about two-thirds of all workplace homicides.
OSHA recommends adoption of the following measures:
- Secure the workplace. Where it may be appropriate, install video surveillance, alarm systems and extra lighting. Also, minimize access to outsiders with the use of ID badges, guards and electronic keys.
- Set up drop safes so you limit the amount of cash on hand.
- Offer field staff cell phones and handheld alarms and require them to keep in regular contact throughout the day.
- Tell employees to never enter any place where they feel unsafe.