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Random Acts of Deadly Violence Haunt the Workplace

  • Ted Landphair

Accidents and health risks are not the only on-the-job hazards

There have been a number of deadly workplace shootings around the United States this year.

Most recently, in Connecticut, a beer-truck driver who, his company said, was caught stealing on a surveillance tape, was asked to resign. He listened quietly, walked to the lunchroom, pulled a handgun from his lunchbox and began shooting other workers — eight fatally — before killing himself as well. What goes on behind these postal boxes? Routine sorting and such, usually. But from time to time, a disgruntled employee goes postal and vents pent-up anger with violence.

What goes on behind these postal boxes? Routine sorting and such, usually. But from time to time, a disgruntled employee goes postal and vents pent-up anger with violence.

Other disgruntled employees have been tied to a string of violent workplace deaths. In post offices, insurance companies, attorneys' offices, automobile assembly plants — even a tightly secured U.S. Army base in Texas — the story has been the same: A raging worker bursts in and shoots coworkers, bystanders, and usually himself.

In fact, homicide is the second-leading cause of death on the job, after highway accidents. More than 750 Americans each year die at the hands of people who occupy a nearby desk or workbench.

Workplace violence even has a nickname. It's called going postal. What sends resentful and enraged employees over the edge? Explanations vary and are sometimes hard to come by, since workplace shooters frequently take their own lives as well as many others'.

What sends resentful and enraged employees over the edge? Explanations vary and are sometimes hard to come by, since workplace shooters frequently take their own lives as well as many others'.

The term traces to a cold Michigan morning in 1991, when a worker who had been fired from his post-office job stormed the facility and shot four supervisors and himself to death.

What triggers such rage? In the recent case, the truck driver, who was black, complained to friends and family that co-workers were racists who taunted him and gave him the worst assignments. In the post-office incident, friends said the shooter snapped under a demanding and highly stressful work environment.

California psychologist Michael Mantell has written that deadly workplace shooters are often socially isolated loners who think poorly of themselves. They see themselves as victims, complain about their jobs constantly, and blow up at the slightest perceived insult.

But take away that job, and these human time bombs have nothing — nothing to lose, nothing to live for, and nothing to stop them from seeking revenge.

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