My motivation in writing this article series at this time is to put a spotlight on the vital issue of violence in the workplace. I had been planning to write this series in the future but now it takes precedence over other subjects. This week, a story unfolded in Santa Cruz, California that is very close, both in geographical proximity to my business, as well as on a personal level.
On Wednesday evening, June 14, 2006, an applicant attorney, Jay Bloombecker, was shot and killed by a disgruntled injured worker. This incident occurred right in our community, where Mr. Bloombecker and his family reside. The situation has far-reaching impacts on both a professional and personal level.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has found that an average of 20 workers are murdered each week in the United States. In addition, an estimated 1 million workers -18,000 per week - are victims of nonfatal workplace assaults each year.
What is considered workplace violence and what are some of the work factors that can contribute to it?
Workplace violence ranges from offensive or threatening language to, in the most extreme cases, homicide. According to The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), workplace violence is defined as:
* Violent acts (including physical assaults and threats of assaults) directed toward persons at work or on duty. Examples of violence include the following:
* Threats: Expressions of intent to cause harm, including verbal threats, threatening body language, and written threats.
* Physical assaults: Attacks ranging from slapping and beating to rape, homicide, and the use of weapons such as firearms, bombs, or knives.
* Muggings: Aggravated assaults, usually conducted by surprise and with intent to rob.
Workplace violence is a very serious matter and everything in an employer's power should be done to contribute to a safe workplace for its employees. There are common risk factors that contribute to workplace violence, which an employer should be aware of and watch for.
Employees working directly with volatile people, especially, those who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol or have a history of violence or certain psychotic diagnosis;
Long waits for service;
Employees working alone;
Poor environmental design
Lack of staff training and policies for preventing and managing crises with potentially volatile workers;
Drug and alcohol abuse;
Access to firearms;
And unrestricted movement in public.
In the past, Mr. Bloombecker had hosted informational and educational seminars for injured workers in Santa Cruz and he invited me to present seminars on vocational rehabilitation, the voucher and other related return to work information to the injured workers.
Additionally, I have worked on his cases for vocational rehabilitation and expert testimony files.
The Bloombecker family is well known in the community and at the dance school at which our children mutually attend. This is not a random act, but a highly charged situation.
It is important to report every threat of violence and take it seriously.
None of us can anticipate what could become a triggering factor to set someone off to take further and violent action. What is someone's breaking point?
Workplace violence is on the rise, and will continue to be from now on. It is in all of our best interest to do our best to minimize this threat and be prepared to respond to it. Not only is it a sound business practice, lowering your risk for liability and lost productivity etc., but also it is the smart thing to do.
Preventing workplace violence should be every employer's first safety goal. By making the workplace a safe environment to work, everyone benefits.
Best wishes and condolences are extended to the family of Jay Bloombecker and every person involved in this tragic situation.
Jamie Charter, consultant, educator and writer, is an associate member of the Santa Cruz County Bar Association.
Jamie Charter, consultant, trainer and author, has been providing employment and litigation consulting services for 23 years through Charter and Company employment resource consultants in Soquel, California. Areas of specialization include development and implementation of disability management programs, case management, EEOC/FEHA/ADA consultation, return-to-work facilitation, CalPers job description services, job analyses, conducting training seminars for employer groups on sexual harassment prevention and discrimination and litigation /expert witness services in Forensics.