The University Record, May 23, 1994

Administrators briefed on workplace violence, warning signs

By Mary Jo Frank

Violence in the workplace can range from chronic irritability on the part of an employee to occupational homicide.

Some 70 LS&A key departmental administrators last Tuesday learned tips on possible predictors of violence in the workplace and ways to defuse potential problems before they explode.

“Our society has become very, very violent,” Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Leo J. Heatley told the administrators. “Law enforcement has always been reactionary. I believe we need to do more in the area of prevention. Individuals need to learn how to protect themselves.”

Heatley and Keith Bruhnsen, manager of the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program (FASAP), offered their units as resources to faculty and staff concerned about violence at work.

One way DPS attempts to head off violence is by profiling potentially violent individuals. To do so, Heatley said, DPS needs faculty, staff and students to report threats of violence they receive, even if the threats appear to be in jest.

Bruhnsen said that in the last six months, FASAP has been involved in profiling or setting up forensic evaluations for 12 individuals referred to him because of a potential for violent acts.

Certain work situations are higher risk, including working around money, law enforcement, retail sales, human resources, social work, reception areas and working alone.

Bruhnsen said the workplace murderer is likely to be a middle-age Caucasian male using an exotic weapon,

such as a legally

acquired semi-automatic gun.

There is often a relationship between violent behavior and serious mental illness where the person is not receiving professional care, Bruhnsen said.

A perpetrator of violence, Bruhnsen said, tends to cause trouble on the job; is paranoid, inflexibile, chronically disgruntled and vengeful; and is quick to perceive unfairness or malice in others.

When profiling an individual, FASAP looks at the person’s past history of violent acts, recent stressful events, the person’s access to weapons, if an actual threat was made, and whether the person has emotional, alcohol or drug problems.

Domestic violence increasingly is spilling over into the workplace, Bruhnsen noted. Women are the fastest growing group of occupational homicide victims, partly because more women are in the workplace and because 25 years ago workplace crimes were uncommon.

“Something has changed around norms of good behavior,” Bruhnsen said, and society needs to step up to the challenge to deal with these changes.

Factors that contribute to workplace stress, according to Bruhnsen, include: heat, noise, poor ventilation, exposure to noxious fumes, continuous time pressures, tedious tasks and too much overtime.

One of the best things the University and supervisors can do to reduce violence in the workplace is to provide supervisors and employees with good conflict resolution skills, Bruhnsen said.