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At Least 2 Million Or More Americans Experience Workplace Violence


In this country, we do not know the motive of a civil engineer who opened fire at his workplace in Virginia Beach. We do know that that mass shooting adds to the record of widespread workplace violence. From our member station WAMU, Alana Wise reports.

ALANA WISE, BYLINE: Friday's shooting rampage at a Virginia Beach city government building marked one of the worst workplace killings of the last decade. Kathleen Bonczyk is an attorney and former HR executive who founded the nonprofit Workplace Violence Prevention Institute. She warns that at least 2 million Americans experience violence at work according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

KATHLEEN BONCZYK: And as alarming a statistic that is, what is even more alarming is that OSHA goes on to tell us that many more cases go unreported. So we don't even have a good statistic as to how many Americans are victimized by workplace violence.

WISE: In 2016, there were 500 workplace homicides. They accounted for 10% of all fatal occupational injuries that year according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the vast majority of them were committed with a firearm.

BONCZYK: Unlike the traditional form of workplace violence where it is, let's say, economic-based - it's financial in nature - when it's a case of a co-worker who is lashing out on another co-worker, the amount of hostility that's involved is very similar to almost domestic violence.

WISE: The motives of the Virginia Beach shooter have not yet been identified. The nine-year employee launched the deadly attack just hours after submitting his resignation. But Johnny Taylor, president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, says that incidents like these are often preceded by reversals in a person's personal and professional lives.

JOHNNY TAYLOR: It's typically not one thing, so professional versus personal. It's typically when there's a confluence of both. So I'm having a hard time at home, and then I have a hard time with my boss. Those two explode. That's when you see that occur, and then the person essentially says, this is my way out. You know, we like to think that it doesn't happen a lot; 1 in 7 employees say they don't feel safe at work.

WISE: In Virginia Beach, that feeling of unease was being expressed less than a mile away from where the shooting occurred. Donn Lee, business manager at Courthouse Community United Methodist Church, said that while the church and others in the area had been preparing themselves for the potential of violence, Friday's massacre gave new urgency to increasing building security to deal with threats from within.

DONN LEE: Oftentimes, it's, you know, it's somebody you know; it's somebody in your church. And of course, Friday, it was somebody they knew. So you know, you can't just say it's somebody barging into your facility; it could be somebody inside.

WISE: Lee said the church is in the process of putting together a security plan that goes beyond locked doors. For NPR News, I'm Alana Wise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUBLAB'S "YOUR HANDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.