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©1999 - 2005
Edward D. Reuss
All rights reserved. Including the right of reproduction in whole or part in any form

 

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE - THE AFTERMATH

"Workers Return After Massachusetts Rampage".  That was how the Associated Press article led into a story about workers returning to work at Edgewater Technology Incorporated in Wakefield, Massachusetts.   On the day after Christmas, another so-called "disgruntled" employee allegedly shot and killed seven co-workers in another incident of workplace violence.

But, the headline was not quite accurate.  The returning employees had permission to work from home or from the company's Peabody or Manchester, New Hampshire offices.  Why?  The police forensic technicians, crime scene unit, and detective investigators had completed their job.  The ballistics evidence, photos, measurements, and all forensic evidence had been properly processed. Now there remained the job of returning the workplace back to "normal".

 Cleanup crews that specialize in trauma and crime scenes had been working to erase signs of the slayings.  The blood, fragments of human tissue, and other body fluids must be removed and properly disposed of by trained and licensed specialists. Blood-borne pathogens such as HIV, Hepatitis A, B, and the deadly C, Tuberculosis and other infectious diseases are concerns.   These bio-hazardous materials must be collected at the scene, sealed, and disposed of by a licensed medical waste disposal company.

The bio-hazardous disposal experts who do this kind of work are a new breed. They must be certified by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) to handle blood-borne pathogens. They must receive a series of three hepatitis B vaccinations. They also must be licensed by the EPA (Environmental Health Administration) to haul medical waste.   They wear protective masks, gowns, and gloves and follow strict guidelines in disposing of the bio-hazardous waste. There are not that many firms that perform this service.  Try to find one in the yellow pages.

This is a far cry from years ago when cops, firefighters, and morgue wagon operators disposed of human remains at crime scenes and where human bodies were in advanced states of decomposition. Oftentimes, the clean up of the crime scene was left to the janitorial staff of the hotel or business firm.  Untrained or unlicensed personnel can no longer perform decontamination and cleanup of trauma and crime scenes. The bloody aftermath of violence in the workplace creates the need for such services.

The critical incident stress debriefing that employees receive after being traumatized as a result of these rampages is the first and most important consideration.  The shock and trauma that survivors sustain must be assessed and counseling provided.  However, it is important to realize that part of the trauma may be the workplace itself.  In the immediate aftermath of the traumatic incident, the vivid memories of the death and injuries sustained by their fellow employees is attached to the work areas of those employees who were killed or injured. The computer terminal, desk, personal effects, and other items are a reminder of the loss.  How can we expect employees to return to a workplace that is a constant reminder of the terror that they witnessed?
This illustrates the need for a recovery plan. Once the violence occurs, it is TOO LATE to plan.

A good recovery plan must include primarily a trauma-counseling plan for employees.  If workers do not receive counseling for post-traumatic stress, it may lead to the more serious post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   Critical incident stress debriefings conducted by qualified counselors go a long way to assess the needs of victims and co-workers who witness violence in the workplace.

In many cases of workplace violence, the offender will commit suicide. This time will be different. The media will not turn its attention away from this case so quickly.  This time we will see the accused killer on trial. Every expert in human behavior will give opinions on this case.  You will be reading articles in magazine and newspapers and the media will offer their reports on the trial and background of the suspect.   The victims and co-workers will be testifying in court before the world.  The issue of violence in the workplace will receive attention as never before. With each new stage of the prosecution, the attention of the public will focus on this rampage.

As the workplace violence has raged across America, we have seen increasing incidents of aggressive behavior in all areas of life. In 1998, a bill was introduced in the New York State Legislature that would require employers with 50 or more employees to implement procedures that would go a long way to prevent violence in the workplace.  The proposed legislation would require that employers undertake a RISK EVALUATON or risk assessment. The risk factors that the bill would require employers to evaluate include working in government offices, public protection services, schools, health-care institutions, taxicabs, and retail and service facilities, guarding or maintaining property or possessions, working in high-crime areas, late night or early morning hours, or along or in small numbers, exchanging money with the public, uncontrolled access to the workplace, and areas with previous security problems.

Secondly, once the risk evaluation is completed, the legislation would require that the employer develop a WRITTEN WORKPLACE VIOLENCE PREVENTION PROGRAM. The program must list the risk factors in the workplace and the methods that the employer will use to prevent incidents of occupational ASSAULT AND HOMICIDES.

The employer would be required to conduct TRAINING of all employees in the prevention program. The bill represents an aggressive effort by the New York State Legislature to address the issue of violence in the workplace.   Passage of this bill would require a significant investment in TIME AND MONEY by employers.  Therein may lie the problem. However, investment in such a program is just that.   Legislation and repeated incidents of workplace violence indicate that this will be an investment that management can ill afford not to make. The proposed legislation has passed the Assembly.

The Private Sector Liaison Committee (PSLC) of the International Association of Chiefs of Police initiated a project to identify and refine the recommendations of 16 focus groups from the private and public sectors.  Representatives from the FBI, DEA, US Secret Service, and State and Municipal law enforcement agencies, as well as university police participated. Representatives from the private sector were CEO's and corporate security directors from large and well-known firms.  The result of this project is the program that has named "COMBATING WORKPLACE VIOLENCE - Guidelines for Employers and Law Enforcement".

The guidelines make practical recommendations for employers and law enforcement to foster a working partnership to deal with violence in the workplace.  Employers and the police need to have well designed plans that deal with domestic violence that spills over into the workplace, working plans for coping with barricaded emotionally disturbed persons, hostage taking incidents, and other critical incidents. The vast majority of violence incidents that occur in the workplace are simple assaults. The homicides and rampages get the media attention, but those "simple" assaults and domestic violence cases may lead to more serious violence.

The trauma that victims and co-workers are exposed to requires an awareness of the need for critical incident stress debriefing.  Trained counselors are needed to evaluate the effects on the victims. Post-traumatic stress can lead to serious emotional problems.  Critical Incident Stress Management Teams are answering the challenge. Employers and police managers must educate themselves about post-traumatic stress and become believers in this vital service.

It is sad to note that the IACP Guidelines were issued in 1996.  The New York State legislation to create written programs do prevent violence in the workplace was introduced in 1998. Since that time, we have witnessed the most horrific instances of violence in the workplace.  We must put the guidelines into practice.  The proposed legislation dealing with violence in the workplace must become law. We must act.

In December 1999, the new Stalking laws went into effect.  Stalking laws now range from a Class B Misdemeanor to a Class D Felony in the Penal Law of the State of New York. The NYPD has initiated a pilot project in Brooklyn North SATCOM Area called "Stalking the Stalker".   A study of female homicides from 1990-1997, stalking behavior was indicated in 70% of the cases.  This pilot program is designed to prevent those homicides from happening. Domestic violence very often spills over into the workplace. This procedure goes a long way to prevent domestic violence from exploding into violence. The information that is shared by the police and the employer is an example of how open dialogue between agencies can bear fruit. The NYPD leads the world of law enforcement in this area.  The COMPSTAT meetings have included a database of domestic violence offenders.  When a case is identified as a "stalker" case, the NYPD communications section will enter the residence and workplace of the victim as "sensitive
locations" with a description of the offender.  This will enable first responders to be provided with critical data on the offender and the nature of the call for service.  This will aid in the safety of the responding officers and the victim and aid in the apprehension of the offender.

(See "Stalking the Stalker" in the archives of NY COP ONLINE MAGAZINE WWW.NYCOP.COM)

These guidelines together with the proposed legislation are a good beginning.  Awareness of the problems of violence in the workplace and initiation of this program can bring about a safer work environment for both employers and employees.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

Edward D. Reuss, Captain, NYPD (retired), the Publisher of NY COP ONLINE MAGAZINE is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police. He will be presenting the first seminar "Combating Workplace Violence" at John Jay College of Criminal Justice on January 26, 2001.  The seminar can be presented at your corporate, academic, or government facility.

Contact Professor Robert J. Louden, Director of the Security Management Institute for questions about seminars.  212-237-8639 FAX 212-237-8637 email him at rjlouden@jjay.cuny.edu
OR email ereuss@si.rr.com

Copyright © 2001 Edward D. Reuss

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