Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Worker Alertness Vital to Stemming Shop-Floor Violence ; This Week's Factory Shootings Come as Firms Use Screening and Training to Avert Outbursts

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Worker Alertness Vital to Stemming Shop-Floor Violence ; This Week's Factory Shootings Come as Firms Use Screening and Training to Avert Outbursts

Article excerpt

The fact that assembly-line worker Doug Williams slipped out of an ethics and sensitivity seminar at his manufacturing plant in Meridian, Miss., this week and apparently killed five co-workers in a shooting spree is a tragic irony, but one that also symbolizes growing efforts by the nation's businesses to prevent workplace violence.

On the one hand, many companies are working harder than ever to prevent Dilbert-like frustration from exploding into outright rampages. They're piling on everything from at-work seminars to pre- employment screening to psychological tests.

On the other hand, the fact that Mr. Williams reportedly exhibited clear warning signs - including threatening numerous times to kill co-workers - highlights the fact that one of the best preventive steps is for alert employees to carefully confront the situation and perhaps voice concerns to higher-ups.

"Employers are more cognizant about what is acceptable and unacceptable" - and about the need to implement new programs to address conflict and tension, says Steve Kaufer, co-founder of the Workplace Violence Research Institute in Palm Springs, Calif.

Compassion, confrontation

But experts also warn that programs can't take the place of basic human compassion - or of willingness to deal with tense situations. Companies have become more sensitive, in part, because of a growing recognition of related costs. Some estimates peg the cost of workplace violence - everything from shooting sprees to convenience- store hold-ups - at $28 billion per year in lost time and productivity, litigation, and added security.

Firms have added things like preemployment screening. This can include criminal-background probes, questions about gun ownership, drug-and-alcohol screening, even psychological tests.

These steps can be helpful. But they can be also be overdone, notes Richard Denenberg, codirector of Workplace Solutions, a consulting firm in Red Hook, N.Y. "In most cases, the person becomes violent because of something that happens at work. They weren't born that way."

Sensitivity training is also expanding. It aims to make employees respectful of differences between them - whether based on gender, religion, race, sexual orientation, or other factors. …

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