Originally created 06/19/03

Employers, employees often become victims



Behind vehicle-related accidents, homicides are the second-leading cause of death for workers.

A series of high-profile shootings during the 1990s, locally and nationwide, pushed the issue of workplace violence as an employment issue, but violent acts continue to spill over onto job sites.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly 1 million people each year are victims of violent crime while working.

Although attacks or threats from employees outside the company account for most of the incidents, violence between workers also makes up a large percentage of the cases.

Companies are often held responsible when the attacks occur, said Sgt. John Gray, a task force commander in the Richmond County Sheriff's Office.

"They will sue you, they will sue a company, and they will get an average judgment of $2.2 million," he said Wednesday, referring to national statistics about liability lawsuits against employers.

Sgt. Gray spoke to the Society for Human Resource Management's Augusta area chapter about protecting workers' safety.

The group discussed local cases that took place several years ago when a fired worker killed three employees and injured two at the R.E. Phelon Co. plant in Aiken County. A year earlier, a man shot and killed three workers at the South Carolina Department of Social Services office in North Augusta.

Domestic issues tend to be more common reasons behind today's cases of local workplace violence, group members said during the meeting.

Estranged spouses looking for someone often find him or her at work, said Mary Campbell, the president of the Augusta chapter.

"One of the places they're going to go is their job if they're going to serve them with removal of custody paperwork or something else," she said. "Then they come back to interact with you and your work force, and now you can have a problem."

Changes in an employee's behavior, such as becoming withdrawn, nervous or defensive, is one way to spot a red flag, Sgt. Gray said.

"The demeanor is going to be your telltale," he said. "You have to read someone."

ON-THE-JOB PRECAUTIONS

Steps that employers can take to reduce the chance of a violent incident in the workplace:

  • Have written policies prohibiting violence and harassment and how to respond to incidents.
  • Be conscious of the necessary amount of security, including visitor sign-in procedures and employee education about potential threats.
  • Throughly screen applicants without violating employment rules. Verify references and background checks.
  • In cases of domestic abuse, suggest that employees keep copies of any court orders at work so that the police can remove a person violating a restraining order from the job site.
  • Document all cases of threats or violent incidents in full detail.
  • Sources: Society for Human Resource Management, Sgt. John Gray of Richmond County Sheriff's Office

    Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227 or vicky.eckenrode@augustachronicle.com.