Three people a day in the U.S. are killed while they are at work.
Many of these deaths stem from robberies or accidents, things considered unpredictable or that can’t be prevented. Employees harming other employees, however, is a problem that can be rectified, a local expert says.
Robert Sollars, founder of training and consulting company R.D. Sollars and Associates in Mesa, said workplace violence costs American businesses well over $150 billion a year.
"Workplace violence takes on a lot of different forms. If you have a fist fight inside of a factory, that’s an example of violence," Sollars said.
"Twenty-two million Americans a year are assaulted either verbally or physically in the workplace."
Home Depot dealt with an incident at its Chandler store on Dec. 18. Authorities said a former employee drove his car through the store and lit it on fire. Nobody inside the store was injured.
These problems can occur in any business that does not address early warning signs or concerns with their employees.
Sollars has specialized in workplace security for nearly 20 years, before he went blind and then started his own company. He said there are several warning signs employers should watch for in a potentially violent employee.
A sudden fascination with weapons, antisocial tendencies, paranoia, attendance or productivity problems, or an attitude that he is being treated unfairly by the company or co-workers are common red flags, Sollars said.
Sollars said businesses that foster this kind of violence display similar characteristics as well.
These businesses typically have an authoritarian style of management, or a "my way or the highway" attitude. They usually do not have very good communication between management and front-line workers, they boast a "can’t happen here" mentality, or that these kinds of violent outbursts only happen to other companies, and are closed-minded to any new ideas on how to run their business, Sollars said.
Companies can take steps to help lessen the likelihood of an employee harming others in the workplace. First, the employer must do thorough background checks on prospective employees.
"The process needs to start before the employee is ever hired," Sollars said.
Employers have to look for red flags, such as prior aggravated assaults and whether the job candidate is eligible for re-hire at previous jobs.
"Employers need to dig as deep as they can to get an answer."
The lines of communication need to remain open among managers, supervisors and employees.
At the same time, the employee needs to feel comfortable confronting a manager on concerns about coworkers.
Management must take the appropriate steps immediately to rectify problems, such as attendance. They must have a no-tolerance policy towards threats, and should set up employee assistance programs, like an anonymous hot line, counseling, or psychiatrists.
Home Depot said its human resources policies state that they will provide counseling to troubled employees in the event of a violent episode.
The number of workplace homicides peaked in 1994 at 1,080 deaths, according to a study by the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries.
Over the last decade, the number of deaths have declined steadily.
The number of workplace homicides is at the lowest level since the survey was conducted.
Homicides declined 13 percent in 2004 to 551, compared with 632 in 2003.
"We would like to think it was due to the fact that employers have become more conscious of the issue and have taken steps to fix it," said Fred Blosser, spokesman for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
Although the numbers are declining, workplace violence is still a cause for concern.
"It still is an issue that needs to be addressed," Blosser said.