In 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workplace suicides were up 28 percent over 2007, and workplace homicides continued to be one of the top three causes of on-the-job fatalities, noted the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) in a recent press release.

ASSE members urge employers to take action now to reduce the incidence of homicides in their workplace, especially in light of recent incidents, including a tragic shooting on January 7 at a St. Louis factory, in which an employee opened fire on coworkers, killing three and wounding five others before killing himself.

ASSE member and co-author of the “Workplace Violence Survey & White Paper” JoAnn M. Sullivan, CSP, noted that employers must realize that under federal and state OSHA regulations they have a general duty to furnish to each employee a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards that are causing, or likely to cause, death or serious harm to the employee. She also noted that employers, under the theory of respondent superior, are vicariously liable for any actions committed by its employees within the scope of their employment. The employer is liable for actions of the employee when the employee is working, even if the employee is not acting within company policy.

According to the report, workplace violence includes homicides, physical attacks, rapes, and other assaults — all forms of harassment and any other act that creates a hostile work environment.

Transportation incidents continue to be the number one cause of on-the-job deaths followed by workplace assault and violent acts and contact with an object or equipment. In 2008 in the U.S., according to the BLS statistics, 251 people committed suicide at work, 517 were shot and 32 were stabbed.

Noting that one size does not fit all, the ASSE Risk Management and Insurance (RM/I) Practice Specialty members suggest employers consider doing the following to help prevent workplace violence:
  • Officers and directors – establish a workplace violence prevention policy, upper management must promote a clear antiviolence corporate policy; and, establish and maintain security policies.
  • Human resource managers – examine and improve hiring practices; implement prescreening techniques; utilize background checks; encourage employees to report threats or violent behavior; establish termination policies; and, provide post-termination counseling.
  • Safety, health and environmental departments – train all employees in the warning signs of aggressive or violent behavior; train management in threat assessment and de-escalation techniques; conduct a formal workplace violence risk assessment; increase security as needed; develop and communicate a contingency plan to all employees which includes crisis management and media relations; review insurance coverage and verify coverage and exclusions; and, identify a defensive strategy.