As the events unfolded in the shooting at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, on Wednesday night, it looks like this situation is a clear cut case of workplace violence, unlike the last shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, which sparked major controversy over whether or not the shooting was workplace violence or an act of terrorism. While most people deemed the 2009 shooting as an act of terrorism, and wanted it to be recognized as that, it was considered workplace violence as well by the Department of Defense, even after extensive evidence showed the shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, had connections with leaders of Al Qaeda prior to the shooting. The current incident appears to have arisen from a dispute between the soldier and his boss. Because of this, it is important to note the extremity of violence in the work place and how prevalent it has become in today’s working generation.
According to the United States Department of Labor, almost two million workers in the United States have reported being victims of workplace violence each year. Just in the year 2010 alone, 4,547 fatal workplace injuries occurred, and 506 of those were workplace homicides. What is even more shocking than those numbers is the fact that many more workplace violence cases go unreported. So, what exactly is workplace violence? As defined by the United States Department of Labor, “workplace violence is any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”
Workplace violence can happen anywhere and to anyone, but there are several independent factors that increase the risk of violence actually occurring. Some of these factors include:
- Exchanging money with the public
- Working alone
- Providing care and services
- Working with alcohol
- Working late at night
- Working in high crime areas
- Specific job positions, including law enforcement agents and healthcare professionals
In many professional environments, these risk factors can be reduced by taking necessary precautions. When hiring new employees, screenings should be conducted to highlight potential problems the employee might bring to the table. These screenings can include background checks, criminal record checks, reference and employment verification’s, interview behavior, and drug and alcohol tests. These screenings can greatly reduce workplace violence. For already-existing employees, the most effective precaution an employer can do is to ensure there is a zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence and implement this policy through a handbook or manual and training. Elements that should be a part of these policies include commitment from management, employee engagement, worksite analysis, safety training, record keeping, and program evaluation.
Reducing and ultimately preventing workplace violence not only means protecting your employees, but protecting your company from trouble and possible lawsuits. Workplace violence preventative programs, training, and screening may be an investment, but it is definitely an investment worth taking. The potential for risk is too great for companies who do nothing to reduce or prevent harm to and by their employees, and no one is immune.