Ontario workplace shooting leaves one dead, two injured

U.S. study shows vast majority of employees can't recognize the warning signs

In the wake of a fatal workplace shooting in Ontario, a new study has found that most workers are not able to identify potential warning signs that often precede a violent incident.

On May 8, a man opened fire at Liquiterminals, a trucking company in Mississauga, Ont., killing one and injuring two others. A 49-year-old Ottawa man, a freelance truck driver for the company, has been arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder.

The study, commissioned by the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses, found that while 20 per cent of U.S. workers have experienced workplace violence, only a small proportion can identify the warning signs. The group is calling for more education about workplace violence and wants organizations to adopt prevention programs.

The survey of 500 full-time workers was designed to measure employee knowledge about workplace violence. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was consulted on the survey criteria.

Only four per cent of respondents were able to identify workplace violence warning signs or red flag behaviours identified by the FBI. These changes include mood swings, personal hardships, mental health problems (such as depression and anxiety), negative behaviours (such as lying and a bad attitude), verbal threats and a history of violence.

The survey also revealed some differences in men and women with respect to what is considered workplace violence. Generally speaking, women were more likely than men to consider hostile behaviours like stalking, threats, intimidation and sexual harassment as falling along the continuum of workplace violence.

Guidelines to prevent violence and develop workplace education programs

In response to the survey findings, the FBI and the American Association of Occupational Health Nurses offer the following guidelines for employers to develop violence prevention and education programs:

•Management should conduct a thorough organizational risk assessment and develop workplace violence prevention policies and programs that address potential risks in environment design (such as security cameras, key card access), administrative controls and behavioural strategies.

•Programs should clearly define the spectrum of workplace violence (ranging from harassment to homicide), delineate employee responsibilities for recognizing and reporting signs, and be communicated to every employee. All programs should promote zero tolerance.

•Ask for and integrate employee ideas when developing and implementing a violence prevention program.

•Create a confidential and seamless reporting system. Encourage workers to report any and all concerns to a single representative, such as an occupational health and safety professional or HR manager.

•Incorporate a variety of communications tools such as posters, newsletters, staff meetings and new employee materials.

•When training employees, review common warning signs, behavioural traits and how to recognize potential problems. Employees should also understand that each case is different, and to not limit at-risk behaviour to a standard profile.

•Involve all employees in workplace violence prevention programs. Training should be ongoing and mandatory for every employee.

•As an employee, actively participate in all education and awareness programs. If you do not have a violence prevention program at work, request information from your occupational health department, HR department or manager.

•As an employee, if you recognize that a colleague exhibits a risk behaviour, report any concerns to your HR representative or occupational health professional.

The FBI has published an 80-page handbook, Workplace Violence — Issues in Response. It addresses the planning and strategic issues that employers should be aware of and contains practical advice and sample workplace violence policies and sample threat assessments. It is available at www.fbi.gov/publications/violence.pdf.

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