Employers called upon to reduce on-the-job violence

August 10, 1994|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

Maryland's workplaces are becoming increasingly violent. And if employers don't do something to reduce their workers' vulnerability to trigger-happy robbers, disgruntled employees or irate ex-husbands, the government could fine them, the state's top job safety official warned yesterday.

Craig D. Lowry, compliance chief of the Maryland Occupational Safety and Health office, told a filled-to-capacity conference on workplace violence held at the Johns Hopkins University that Maryland workplaces are more violent than the national average, and that the problem seems to be getting worse.

But a review of the 180 workplace killings in Maryland between 1980 and 1989 shows that many employers could have reduced the danger of violence, Mr. Lowry said.

"Because many incidents are preventable you may very well be in violation" of federal laws requiring employers to provide safe and healthful workplaces, Mr. Lowry told an audience of managers from local businesses.

For example, federal and state safety agencies "have issued citations to employers for not following through" on indications that an employee may be planning a violent attack, he said.

"You may be compelled by law" to better protect workers who handle cash, work alone at night or who are vulnerable to ex-employees angry about layoffs, he said.

Eugene Regala, a Washington-based special agent with the FBI who is researching workplace violence, said he's started developing a profile of disgruntled employees who have turned violent.

Most, he said, are middle-aged white men who have had little or no trouble with the law in the past.

But they tend to be loners with "an obsessive involvement with their job," and are also often obsessed with guns or other weapons.

While these traits don't guarantee that someone may turn violent, Mr. Regala said, employers should be especially concerned if the person starts making threats, seems to be having problems at home and if there are signs of increased drug and alcohol use. The trigger for a violent act is usually some trauma at work, such as a layoff or disciplinary action, he said.

A growing number of companies, including the Tennessee Valley Authority and Ameritech, have started to develop plans to reduce the potential for violence as they prepare for layoffs, Mr. Regala said.

The best way to reduce the potential for violence?

"Treat these people with respect, dignity, and kindness," Mr. Regala said. "Don't just chop them off at the kneecaps."

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