Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Deadly Domestic Disputes in the Workplace A Rarity

Workplace experts say incidents like Tuesday’s double shooting in Palm Springs represent a relatively rare form of workplace violence -- the kind that apparently stems from a domestic situation.But that type of incident is also among the hardest to foresee or prevent."The domestic situations that spill into the workplace are sometimes the most violent," said Steve Kaufer, co-founder of the Workplace Violence Research Institute in Palm Springs.

Kaufer was not commenting specifically on Tuesday’s incident, and investigators are still trying to piece together the circumstances. The assailant and victim were apparently an estranged boyfriend and girlfriend.However, Kaufer noted that 80 percent of workplace homicides nationwide -- of which there were 560 in 2003 -- are robbery-related. They occur most often among high-risk occupations like convenience store clerks and taxi cab drivers.Another 12 to 13 percent stem from internal workplace confrontations -- among employees, or between workers and their supervisors or customers.Kaufer said the remaining 6 to 7 percent stem from domestic situations carried into the workplace.

From initial indications, Tuesday’s incident stemmed from non-work-related matters.Because the circumstances and triggers are so varied, workplace violence defies simple preventive measures.

In the case of robbery-related violence, said California Department of Industrial Relations spokesman Dean Fryer, the answers are usually common-sense moves -- locking areas, manning shifts with more than one employee and installing security cameras.Extra wariness by employees also helps. "Know your surroundings," Frryar said. "Know who should be in the area and who shouldn’t."

But outside of robbery prevention, experts said other circumstances are harder to guard against. There may be even less that can be done if a small-business operator normally has few other employees on the premises -- the apparent shooting victim owned the dog-grooming business where the Palm Springs incident occurred.I

n places where there are several employees, Kaufer said co-workers and supervisors need to be on the lookout for emotional signs that something is wrong. An employee’s behavior or mood might change, impacting that person’s job performance and interaction with others.That could be a sign of a domestic problem that could enter the workplace in the form of violence.

Employers should be ready to refer workers to counseling agencies, and give those workers time off to address the problems.For instance, a worker might need to check in to a domestic violence shelter to deal with an abusive relationship."Every community, including the Palm Springs area, has resources available," Kaufer said.

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