Workplace Terror in Manchester, Connecticut

Yesterday a tragic story unfolded in Manchester,  Connecticut.   You probably already know that nine people were killed when an employee who was being fired, came back in with his hand gun,  started shooting and, after calling his mother, killed himself. 

This incident is part of a bigger and growing trend to more workplace violence incidents – not only in companies in general, but in hospitals to an even greater degree.  The Manchester incident also illustrates again some of the basic tenets of preventing workplace violence incidents. 

Patrick Fiel, Public Safety Advisor for ADT Security, commented, “The industry standard is to not  terminate employees in open areas where other individuals may be working.   Firings are always touchy situations and should be conducted in an isolated areas, even off-site, away from the work areas.”  

“Many companies have crisis plans in place, and also conduct security risk assessments annually  to prevent this kind of incident.   A comprehensive security assessment  might have saved nine lives by setting up procedures for the termination; and additionally, by making sure employees knew what to do when he did draw his gun.” 

I have been reviewing workplace violence incidents in healthcare and find that they have skyrocketed since the recession started.   Violence against supervisors, managers and also nurses and other healthcare workers has spiked significantly.

 It is surprising to read the following statement on the web site:

There are currently no specific standards for workplace violence. However, this page highlights Federal Registers (rules, proposed rules, and notices) and standard interpretations (official letters of interpretation of the standards) related to workplace violence.

Section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA Act, often referred to as the General Duty Clause, requires employers to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees”. Section 5(a)(2) requires employers to “comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act”.”

It might be time for OSHA to develop some workplace violence prevention standards.  Many of the ones we use in our risk assessments are related to standard security safeguards – such as having a written termination policy; making sure that if  worker at one location is fired, that all other locations are notified so he can’t just go to another office and cause an incident. 

Much of the statistical data we found on the OSHA website were at least six years out of date, which makes it harder to track current trends in workplace incidents, unless you catalog the media-reported events and run an analysis on them.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported  “Mass shootings receive a great deal of coverage in the media, as we saw with the Orlando, Fla. office shootings in November 2009 and in the shootings at the manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, N.M. in July 2010.  Out of 421 workplace shootings recorded in 2008 (8 percent of total fatal injuries),  99 (24 percent) occurred in retail trade.  Workplace shootings in manufacturing were less common, with 17 shootings reported in 2008.  Workplace shooting events account for only a small portion of nonfatal workplace injuries.” from

It makes me wonder if the workplace violence statistics from 2008 until now may be such a large increase, that has been either underreported or even held from publication!

According to a report by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health — “State of the Sector/Healthcare and Social Assistance” — published in 2009, health care workers are more than three times as likely as workers in other industries to be injured by acts of violence.

“Health care workers are at risk for verbal, psychological and physical violence,” the report says. “Violent acts occur during interactions with patients, family, visitors, coworkers and supervisors. “Working with volatile people or people under heightened stress, long wait times for service, understaffing, patients or visitors under the influence of drugs or alcohol, access to weapons, inadequate security, and poor environmen­tal design, are among the risk factors for violence,” the report continues.

In the current economic environment, the physical security (facility) risk assessment can be used as an important tool in making sure that basic industry standards for preventing workplace violence incidents; or limiting the damage they can do – especially for making sure the staff are protected from violent incidents by their co-workers.

The security assessment can be followed by the creation of specific, detailed crisis plans that make sure people know what to do when the unthinkable happens at work.  One of the reasons that workplace violence incidents are so upsetting to all of us is because the person KNEW the people he was killing.  He probably knew their spouses and met their children at a company picnic.  It makes the violence more personal and scary, a whole different thing than falling off a ladder.   And it reminds us all that it COULD happen here!