In the Age of Mass Shootings, What Can Be Done to Reduce Risk in the Workplace?

In 2013, the most recent year for which government statistics are available, less than 2 percent of more than 33,000 gun deaths in the country were due to mass shootings. Mass shootings in the workplace are even less common. However, in 209 out of 336 days this year, at least one shooting left four or more people injured or dead in the United States, according to reports compiled by the New York Times. Since the attack on a San Bernardino office Christmas party perpetrated earlier this month by Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 29 killed 14 people and wounded many others, the awareness of violence as a workers’ comp risk has become more acute. Louisiana Comp Blog spoke to Paul Boudreaux, loss control representative with LCTA Workers’ Comp, to get his thoughts on practical solutions to minimize the potential for workplace violence

The California incident (which is being investigated as an “act of terrorism”) was compounded on the local level by a shooting at a Kenner Houston Marine office (2500 block of Williams Boulevard) on December 7th. Police say that employee John Spears walked inside the location with a .40-caliber handgun and fatally shot facility manager Anthony Tardo once near the heart. Then, according to coverage from The New Orleans Advocate, Spears then stepped back outside and calmly waited for police officers responding to 911 calls to place him under arrest and jail him on a count of second-degree murder. A co-worker stated that Spears had told him that he intended to “shoot everybody” about thirty minutes prior to arriving with a weapon, but that he thought Spears was joking. The motive for the sudden slaying remains unclear.

All in all, homicides accounted for nine percent of fatal occupational injuries in 2014, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (all charts here.) In the realm of multiple fatality incidents, the rate attributed to homicide was slightly higher – at a full ten percent of such accidents. In Louisiana, workplace homicides are rare, typically not even breaking double digits in any given year. BLS shows eight homicides across the state in 2011, eleven in 2012, nine in 2013 and 8 in 2014.

In terms of prevention, some steps are simple. When asked the first thing that he recommends to minimize the threat of workplace violence in his duties as a loss control representative for LCTA Workers’ Comp, Paul Boudreaux explained, “The first thing I’m going to ask if I’m looking at that issue [during a loss control visit] is, ‘Does the employer have a written policy in which everyone is trained to recognize and respond to workplace violence and/or active shooter situations?’ And further, I’m going to ask if the managers are trained in de-escalation techniques, which are a great resource if you need to talk someone down until the police get there.”

Boudreaux said that, typically, workplace homicides and other violence fall “about half and half” between internal and external origination. However, the size of the company can present more or less likely scenarios. With larger companies, said the Churchpoint-based specialist, the concern is weighted more heavily towards disgruntled employees. Whereas with smaller companies, husbands or boyfriends are more likely to be the culprit, as conflict and domestic violence in an employee’s personal life can have a spillover effect.

Indeed, the statistics bear that phenomenon out. In the same BLS preliminary 2014 data, census researchers note that “women experienced a higher proportion of fatal injuries due to homicide relative to men” at 19 percent of all workplace fatalities among females, compared to eight percent among males.

He recommends access cards to prevent outside violence, which is easier to create policy for, especially in non-retail sectors. In the case of the San Bernardino massacre, the fact that Farook, a county health inspector who had attended the party, returned with Malik, a non-employee, and their massive arsenal is unusual. It was also relatively unusual that the couple was able to escape in their black S.U.V. before being killed in a police standoff several hours and 3.5 miles away from the initial attack site.

Gun laws on a state-by-state basis are also at play when setting workplace policy. Louisiana’s concealed carry laws only prohibit guns in certain public spaces like police stations, government buildings, courthouses, some schools, and permitted parades – and in private spaces only when in another person’s residence (in which the carrier must ask permission) or in places of worship. As such, the likelihood that either an inside or outside individual or group could have access to a gun in the workplace or in a private vehicle is a distinct reality. “With the concealed gun laws we have [in Louisiana],” Boudreaux explained, “a policy that bans firearms on company property, even in vehicles, is probably a good idea, as is a written plan for how leadership needs to respond in that situation.”

The overall risk of a shooting incident in the workplace remains quite low, especially compared to fatal transportation accidents or typical risks like falls, and while Boudreaux acknowledges that “on a day to day basis” it isn’t a primary concern, “it is a pretty high priority right now in terms of requests” and given current events. “In Louisiana’s system, [an event like San Bernardino] would be a comp issue, so it’s definitely something we’re taking a look at,” Boudreaux said.

 

Editor’s Note: Slate, in partnership with a nonpartisan project known as the Gun Violence Archive, has made available information on shootings well before federal statistics are released. Those data include location information that makes it possible to plot those shootings on a map showing how many have taken place in your vicinity.

 

Image Credit: FBI.gov

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