Virginia Tech is the latest example of rage rampage at a "safe" place

Rage in schools (this week's Virginia Tech Institute is just the latest example), at work, on the road, in the air, in homes… we joke about folks needing "anger management" but really, it's killing us.

Cho Sung-Hui

How do we stop the shooters - such as Cho Seung-Hui - who wreak havoc in our "safe" environments such as schools and workplaces?

How ironic (and painful) then that I sat in a high school assembly just a couple of days after the slaughter at that U.S. school... watching, with the several hundred students gathered there, a video about the tragic death of a youth.

How can you prepare for a violent attack at your place of work or learning? One college teacher sobbed to the media yesterday that he doesn't feel that his workplace is safe now, and it's not. Did you know that murder is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the US?! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2004, 551 workplace homicides occurred out of a total of 5,703 fatal work injuries!

"Going postal" used to be a term strictly associated with violent attacks on the job, but it now extends to the seemingly regular occurrence of fatal shootings at schools, such as last week's 32 murder victims at Virginia Technical Institute.

What's the lesson coming out of the massacre of three dozen kids (and several teachers) at the hands of a mentally ill classmate? It might be seen as a somber reminder of how misunderstood, and vastly under diagnosed, mental illness is - even in this day and age of medical breakthroughs.

Mental illness can be a silent killer

In the case of the Virginia mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui, his teachers and even his mom recognized that he was deeply disturbed. He never spoke about his issues (apparently he rarely spoke about anything!) and didn't get the help he needed. Many families and a whole community in Virginia paid a heavy price for that.

In our workplaces, the lingering stigma of mental illness means that this invisible disability is rarely talked about or dealt with adequately. It's too often a dark secret kept from the boss or coworkers – and mental illness can lead to workplace violence.

OSHA estimates that every year two million American workers are victims of workplace violence resulting in injury or death. Although attacks of rage and mental instability by coworkers, current and former, and ex-partners/spouses of workers, can and do happen anywhere and any time, some employees are more at risk than others.

Those workers who should fear the most for their safety

  • work alone or in small groups late at night or in the early a.m. (retail workers)
  • work in high-crime areas (probation officers, social workers)
  • work in homes (health care and social workers)
  • have extensive contact with strangers, especially if they're exchanging money (retail workers, cable TV installers, utility workers)
  • deliver passengers, services or goods (taxi drivers, mail carriers)

Violent assault is a whole different side of workplace safety than the usual suspects causing "America's Most Injured" (i.e. the hazards implicit in machinery, heavy lifting, transportation, etc.)

Violence and homicide at work is the silent but deadly safety issue that keeps making the headlines with heartbreaking frequency.

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