Local Professor Offers Advice on Steps To Avoid Incidents
Frightened workers scatter, police officers crouch behind
squad cars as an angry employee roams the office with a loaded weapon.
Americans have become all too familiar with the scenario as incidents of
workplace violence occur around the country.
However, Dr. David Sellen, a professor at Argosy
University/Inland Empire, says work-related homicides are less common than
other forms of workplace violence. "Rape and physical assaults are more
common," he said. "But they don't get the attention of the media."
Sellen, a professor in Argosy University's
department of Psychology, teaches courses such as psychodynamics, counseling
and interview techniques. He has a law degree from Southwestern
Angeles, and a doctorate in Neuropsychology from University of Southern
Sellen works with law enforcement agencies in Critical
Incident Debriefing, where psychologists help victims of violent acts normalize
their feelings. He says that workplace shootings are often caused by a
combination of events.
"These situations include a triggering event, such as a job
termination, interpersonal trauma, such as depression, stress or substance abuse,
and an unprepared workplace environment," he says. "Office buildings are often less prepared for
violent acts than courthouses and police stations which often have security."
The typical workplace shooter is more often male than
female, has a history of violence, tends to be withdrawn and a loner. Other
signs include antagonistic and obsessive behavior and career frustration.
Workers are also under additional pressure because of the lack of stability in
"People tend to feel less secure in their jobs because of
the way the economy has changed," Sellen said. "The average person is likely to
see at least three major job changes in their lifetime and most people are not
prepared. People tend to think the employer will take care of them."
Failing to prevent and protect workers from workplace
violence is extremely expensive for American companies. Sellen estimates
workplace violence-related lawsuits cost American employers about $500 million
annually. Faced with these rising costs, more companies are being proactive in
training workers to prevent and identify potentially violent situations.
"Ever since 9-11, more companies have started offering
training to help employees address grievances and to defuse situations," he
said. "Many companies now offer Employee
Assistance Programs (EAP) which offer free counseling for employees who are
facing personal problems."
Sellen said Cal/OHSA, which is responsible for enforcing
workplace safety laws in California,
has strong guidelines for companies on creating a violence free workplace. They
also suggest companies have a workplace violence prevention policy and
committee. Cal/OHSA also gives recommendations on how employees can report
potentially violent situations to the company's human resources department.
Sellen says workplace violence is preventable if companies
take a more hands-on approach.
He offers these suggestions:
• Companies need to ensure that employees have workplace
violence prevention training.
• Companies need to have an open line of communication to
the supervisor so threats or strange behavior can be reported.
• Employees need to be active listeners. No threat should be
taken lightly. Any threat should be reported to the Human Resources director or
• Employers need to make sure that employees have a venue to
handle their grievances.
• Companies need to do in-depth background checks to screen
out employees with violent histories.
• Companies planning to do layoffs can prepare employees for
the change by offering counseling, career training and letters of
For more information about Argosy University/Inland Empire,
call (909) 915-3800 or go to http://www.argosyu.edu/inlandempire
. For more
information on Cal/OHSA recommendations to prevent workplace violence, go to