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Workplace violence carries heavy cost

By Louise Rogers-Feher
Business Beat - Baltimore County Police Department

02/17/05 - On Jan. 26, a man walked into a Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio and, in a matter of minutes, killed one man, wounded two and then shot and killed himself.

A family lost a loved one in a senseless crime. But what were the other side effects ?

Workers at the plant are suffering from nightmares, impaired judgment, chills, headaches and other health problems, according to an article in the Toledo Blade. What's more, they are reliving the scene over and over, according to the article.

The UAW-DaimlerChrysler National Training Center has recognized the employee situation and has sent in eight professionals to help the employees through this difficult period.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer could be looking at other troubles down the road.

According to the Workplace Violence Research Institute, workplace violence often hits companies in three areas:

Costly lawsuits submitted by the survivors of the victims, and those who were directly affected by the incident.

• A drop in productivity among surviving workers. (Jurg Mattman, a consultant and frequent writer for the institute, recalls a similar situation in the early 1990s in which productivity drops correlated with proximity to the "hit" zone. Not only does an affected company lose the skills of the killed or injured workers, but also work is interrupted by police and internal security investigations and by workers' trips to counseling sessions.)

• A loss of well-trained employees because they no longer feel safe in the workplace. This also results in productivity losses.

So, what does a company need to do to avoid a violent situation?

Establish a zero-tolerance violence policy.

That means company representatives need to sit down with employees and new hires and explain what is expected of them.

This goes both ways: The employee has a right to expect a secure workplace environment.

Employees need to know there is a person to whom they can report a potential problem without worrying about retribution. Employees should know that it is imperative that all threats, either explicit or implied, be reported to a supervisor.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends securing the workplace, in part by using digital surveillance cameras in hallways, entrances, exits and stairways. This can make it difficult for an outsider to get through the property without being noticed.

The agency also recommends extra lighting, alarm systems, electronic keys, identification badges and security guards.

OSHA and other security-minded agencies have other recommendations:

• Do not allow former employees or visitors on the premises without an escort.

• Escort terminated employees off the grounds. Remove their names from the computer access list. All keys and badges should be returned. If possible, change the locks and codes of access areas.

• Never allow guns, knives or other weapons in or around company property, including parking lots. In some instances, employees have gone to their cars during breaks and returned with weapons.

Sgt. Randall Miller of the Baltimore County Police Department's Behavioral Assessment Unit, Workplace Violence Team, says companies need to recognize some key problems in the workplace: mental illness, drug addiction, alcohol abuse and domestic problems.

In the mind of someone who is on the edge, a small problem or work-related criticism can escalate quickly in significance.

At the Jeep plant in Toledo, Myles Meyers, the shooter, had met with his bosses the day before the shooting to discuss his job performance.

Meyers had an extensive criminal background involving assault and disturbance.

He had been charged in December with possession of a dangerous drug.

These were warning signs.

Sgt. Miller and Officer Cathleen Batton, a colleague on the county police force, tell companies not to make the mistake of profiling employees. That is best left to experts.

For help or advice regarding workplace violence, call the Workplace Violence Team at 410-931-2145 or go to www.baltimorecountyonline.info/go/police and look for "Workplace Violence Prevention."


Louise Rogers-Feher works in the media relations section of the Baltimore County Police Department. To reach the section, call 410-887-2210.

 

 

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