Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Workplace Violence -- Prevention Is Best Defense

Workplace violence seems to be on the rise everywhere. The news seems to be filled with stories of anger, frustration, and violence. Things have gotten so bad that many such events can happen in a single week. So much so that the news organizations struggle to keep up with the reporting of the background to each story as the people and communities affected can have an opportunity to understand and internalize what has happened.


As a case in point, a couple of years ago we were all shocked and dismayed to hear the story of the shooting rampage that occurred at Virginia Tech. That event was deeply troubling and received much media coverage. However, how many will remember that during a 10-day period, there were two other workplace homicides?

There was the story of Anthony LaCalamita III of Troy, Michigan who was fired from his position as an Accountant for the firm of Gordon Advisors a local CPA firm. According to the news reports, LaCalamita decided to exact his revenge on his former coworkers. LaCalamita entered the office where he worked with a 12-guage shotgun and fired first upon the 63-yr old receptionist killing her. Next, LaCalamita moved through the offices looking for his next victims. He passed some of his coworkers as he looked for his intended targets. When he found his boss, managing partner Paul Riva, he fired again striking him in the chest. Apparently satisfied that he had achieved his objective with Riva, LaCalamita next looked for another managing partner Alan Steinberg. LaCalamita fired again striking Steinberg in the hip. LaCalamita then exited the building and attempted to escape but was apprehended by police before he travelled far.

The other story was from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. William Phillips had received an email from his supervisor at his employer at Jacobs Engineering, a NASA contractor, describing problems with his work and suggestions for improvement. Phillips met earlier that afternoon with David Beverly and Fran Crenshaw over lunch to review his work performance. Phillips, not liking what he heard, returned later that afternoon with a revolver. He took Crenshaw hostage and tied her up with duct tape, but shot Beverly twice in the chest. Phillips then left, but was uncertain that he achieved his objective of killing Beverly; he had not. Phillips then return just a few seconds later and shot Beverly twice more killing him. When police arrived on the scene, Phillips killed himself with a single gunshot to the head.

There are many things an employer might to help safeguard their employees. Video surveillance is frequently mentioned, but that really is useful in corroborating the stories of the victims and convicting the assailants, and is of precious little value in prevention. Training is helpful for identifying workers, vendors, and customers that might be at risk but most people are not terribly good at playing amateur psychiatrist even with training.

The most effective tool is to have a rigorous screening program that identifies the at risk individuals while they are job candidates well before they ever become employees. Screening out the unstable individual at this stage pre-empts the damage they might do if they were to have become an employee.

6 comments:

Bill Blakely said...

When a person becomes so angry that they are willing to murder another in an attempt "get even" or otherwise soothe their anger, they have clearly left rational though behind them and have allowed themselves to be ruled by their own raw emotion.

I was watching this past weekend a Clint Eastwood flick, "Unforgiven". In the movie, there is a line spoken by Eastwood's character, "It's helluva thing killing a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever going to have."

I found a clip on YouTubewhich includes the scene.

What an awful price to pay (for both the perpetrator and the victim as both lives are effectively ruined) for losing control.

Too often do we read in the news about yet another murder or attempted murder in the workplace.

Seriously, if you have a real challenge controlling your temper, get some professional help.

Rick Loston said...

Bill,

That's a great point.

Let me see if I can amplify with a real world case from this afternoon. I was reading the news online and found the story of an irate man who was so angry after a fight with his wife in the middle of the parking lot of Chuck E. Cheese in Baychester, NY, that he drove erratically through the street and parking lot. A 36-yr old man was walking with his 6-yr old son in the parking lot when this happened and became the target for the irate man's anger.

The 36-yr old father had just enough time to push his 6-yr old son out of the way of the onrushing car before the car struck the father killing him. The irate driver continued his path of destruction slamming into 6 cars and 14 people before his mangled car could go no further.

The driver is now in police custody.

There is no safe place from people who allow themselves to be out of control. You definitely don't want to have to work next to one of these whack jobs!

MGM said...

Rick,

I read the story and was surprised to learn that 13 people were injured, unknown thousands of dollars in damage to property was done, and the life of a young father was taken all because of a fit of temper.

I wonder what the irate driver felt after he was fingerprinted, photographed, and place in his jail cell. I wonder if the combined damage he had done weighed upon his conscience and his soul. I wonder if he shed a tear as he contemplated what impact his homicide would have on the 6-yr old boy who lost his father. I wonder how many tears stained the cheeks of the parents and siblings of Mark Colon (the deceased father), and his wife Nicole.

Mark Colon was helping his son learn how to ride a bike when he was struck by the driver (Mark St.Pierre). What a high price to pay for trying to be a good father.

What reckless waste. Even if Mr. St.Pierre were truly remorseful and spent the balance of his life attempting to make amends he would never be successful. No amount of money could compensate for a loss so great and so personal as this.

What horrible waste was this. Mr. St.Pierre destroyed a life and so deeply damaged the lives of those who loved Mark Colon that they will never be the same. In so doing, Mr St.Pierre has effectively destroyed his own life as the likely consequence will be a murder conviction and a lengthy prison sentence.

If Mr. St.Pierre's wife was unhappy with him before his rampage, I wonder how she feels about him know.

MGM said...

Just a follow up post on this sad story. Mr. Colon's first name is Miguel not Mark.

Mark St.Pierre was not married to the woman with whom he had the argument in the Chuck E. Cheese parking lot but rather a girlfriend and mother of his 3-yr old daughter.

Currently, charges pending against Mark St.Pierre include manslaughter, reckless endangerment, assault, child endangerment, criminally negligent homicide, and vehicular assault.

NY1
NY Post
NY Times

Char Driver said...

Rick,

Great cite on the NY story. That clearly identifies the danger of people who struggle with anger management.

Here is another example, although with admittedly fewer details, that helps illustrate. In this story the perpetrator is the principal victim (commits suicide), but the supervisor is a secondary victim (he goes to her house to shoot himself).

Staying in control of your emotions is so critical. Allowing your emotions to control you rather than the other way around can result in stories like these

David hogard said...

Employers should also take practical steps to create a safe environment, such as extra lighting, video surveillance, alarm systems, limiting / controlling access to the workplace by using identification badges, electronic keys and security guards. Employers can also conduct safety training for employees teaching them how to protect themselves and how to spot unsafe situations.

http://justblogme.com/workworkwork/357197/Avoiding+Workplace+Violence.html