Yesterday’s tragic shooting in Virginia, in which two journalists were killed by a former co-worker and third individual was badly injured, was blindsiding. In the hours that passed, we learned more about the shooter’s turbulent work history. However, the only real hints at total disaster came in near real time, as the shooter let the world into the depths of his depravity through a bizarre manifesto and social media postings made shortly after the murders. All told, it’s hard to imagine how this tragedy could have been prevented.
A little less than five years ago, I wrote here about a horrific workplace shooting in Pennsylvania that left two employees dead and another severely injured. When I Googled to find more information about the aftermath of that 2010 shooting, I found this article about a jury award entered this past Spring, finding that the security company hired to protect employees at the facility negligent. Still, like yesterday’s shooting, no one could have accurately forecasted the Pennsylvania tragedy. Although, apparently, repeated clashes between the killer and her co-workers prior to the shooting suggested that matters could escalate beyond mere words.
Ultimately, it’s exceedingly difficult to predict workplace violence, and there is no solution to stopping it altogether, especially when outside forces can impact employee safety. However, there are several prophylactic steps that employers can take to reduce the risk. Please refer back to my 2010 post for some suggestions (and resources) on addressing the root of the problem before it spirals out of control into workplace violence.