Paul Butler: Addressing workplace violence

Paul Butler

It would be remiss of me to not reflect upon the tragic event that unfolded last week in my hometown of Santa Clarita, where a lone assailant shot and killed two of his fellow students as well as injuring two others before taking his own life.

The debates are sure to continue about mental illness and gun control, but from my vantage point, the heart of the issue is the human heart. What causes us to dislike someone? What causes us to hate someone? What causes us to murder someone? I’d suggest it’s the human heart. Disliking someone and murdering someone are just two very extreme endpoints of the same spectrum. Jesus said when we hate someone, we’ve committed murder in our heart.

We can call murder a mental illness, but it really is a heart illness. We can campaign for tighter gun control, but it really is a matter of tighter heart control.

Relating this tragedy to the workplace, it seems there really is an issue with the heart. According to a report by Alert Find in their 2018 study, workplace violence is one of the major causes of death in the corporate world, second only to transportation. Workplace violence is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the worksite.

According to OSHA: About 2 million people each year report some type of workplace violence and it is estimated that 25% of workplace violence goes unreported! According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report; shootings accounted for 412 workplace homicides last year. Stabbing, cutting, slashing and piercing incidents accounted for another 38 homicides. Hitting, kicking, beating and shoving accounted for 35 workplace homicides. What is it with us humans?

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are four main types of workplace violence that could compromise employee safety. The first is criminal intent, which is where the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence. The vast majority of workplace homicides (85%) are caused within this first category.

The second type of workplace violence is where the perpetrator does have a legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and becomes violent while being served by the business. The third type is where the employee or past employee attacks or threatens another employee(s) or past employee(s) in the workplace. The fourth type of workplace violence is where the perpetrator usually does not have a relationship with the business but has a personal relationship with the intended victim. This fourth category includes victims of domestic violence who are assaulted or threatened while at work.

Just as the William S. Hart Union High School District will be looking into changing policies to try and prevent last week’s event from recurring, they will just be joining a long list of other establishments; be they universities, airports or places of worship who desperately want to protect their students, customers or congregants from such terrible atrocities. Likewise, by understanding these four main types of workplace violence, we can think through measures to take as business owners, human resource professionals and supervisors to prevent them.

Yes, we should do all we can to prevent such terrible events from occurring, but my fear is the heart of the issue is the human heart. We’re not all as bad as each other but just as Jeremiah pondered: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick, who can understand it?”

Yes, some of us may benefit from counselling for mental illness and yes, I do believe we need tighter gun control, but what I truly believe we need is a change of heart which is way, way above my pay grade and not in my job description.

So, even though the skies remain bright blue, an invisible dark cloud hangs over my hometown this week.

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