Facing up to workplace violence


June 23, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

The workplace used to be considered a safe fortress, protected from the violent crime of the streets.

No longer, as daily headlines show.

Early this week an angry ex-airman in Spokane, Wash., shot the psychiatrist who recommended his discharge and killed at least three bystanders.

And locally, a real estate agent was shot last December by a purported customer. A few months earlier, a PHH FleetAmerica employee was killed by a fellow worker who was distraught over the breakup of their romance.

Although they didn't want to admit it publicly, several security officials at major local employers said the problem keeps getting worse. They've noticed increases in assaults and threats of violence at their Maryland workplaces.

A few local corporations are starting to do something about reducing workplace violence -- and they are mounting a public campaign to persuade other employers to improve safety.

At McCormick & Co., security chief William L. Ramsey says he doesn't know of any violent act ever committed on company property at the Maryland headquarters. But he and other managers are drafting a standard response to a threat of violence.

"I can't remember investigating even a fistfight," Mr. Ramsey said. But he's been getting more calls from employees worried about their safety either from other workers or from others who have threatened to track them down at work.

So, he's looking at ways of making buildings more secure, such as installing more locked doors.

"No organization, no place is safe from violence," he said. One reason McCormick is taking action, he said, is that threats which were once shrugged off are now treated as deadly serious. "We all take [threats] more seriously because there have been so many horrendously violent acts. . . . We see it all the time in the news," he said.

Likewise, James R. Kogle, head of security for Bell Atlantic Corp., has gathered a group of about 20 human resources managers, counselors and labor relations experts to figure out how to keep employees safe from attacks of all sorts.

The reason for his concern: the increase of violent crime in society. And growing tensions at Bell Atlantic, he said.

"There are more tensions in the workplace because we are going through a downsizing," he said.

Joanne Hiss, security analyzer for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., started a safe workplace training program for the utility's 8,000 employees last year. She's trying to teach linemen to pay attention to the street scene before they get out of their trucks, for example.

And she's helping managers figure out how to handle angry customersand potentially violent conflicts among workers.

She decided to start the program because of the growing reports of workplace violence across the country.

The numbers at BGE haven't been rising recently, she said. There have been 22 violent incidents involving BGE employees in the last two years, she said.

Ms. Hiss is co-chair of a governor's advisory task force on workplace violence that will be drafting a handbook that will give advice to all Maryland employers on how to lower the chances of an assault on a worker.

0 That book should be out this fall, she said.

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