Monday, April 16, 2007

Workplace Violence

I'm not sure exactly what to say about the tragedy at Virginia Tech, another instance of violence in the workplace. It's so horrifying that I'm speechless. I can't imagine how scary that must have been.

I've mentioned that an average of 20 workers are murdered each week in the United States at work and 18,000 people are victims of nonfatal workplace assaults each year.

It seems to me that part of the problem is that we haven't prepared in most workplaces for acts of violence. While I taught high school in New Mexico, I took a shotgun from a student. He planned to sell it to another student. And I don't think either planned any violence, but I was terrified to see the gun. I told him to put the gun back in the truck, get back in my classroom, and then I called the principal.

My teaching mentor was also involved in a school shooting at a vocational college in LA where she was an administrator. A number of coworkers were killed, including her best friend and coworker. So please don't think that violence won't occur in your workplace. It occurs all the time. You do not have to be a taxi driver or a liquor store owner (the top two jobs at risk for homicide on the job) in order to be at risk for workplace violence.

And despite violence all around us, I was struck by how students at Virginia Tech wandered campus, hours after the first incident, oblivious because they hadn't checked their email to receive notification of the shooting in a 9:30 email. Sending an email two hours later doesn't seem like much of a notification system. It seems like no one talked about the possibility of violence in the workplace, and no procedures were in place.

Do you have a plan in your workplace for how to behave with acts of violence? Do you have procedures to follow? A way to document what has happened? Anything at all? Because it could save your life.