Mass Shootings Aren’t the Same As Workplace Violence Events

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I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

I have been writing magazine articles and blogging for over 13 years and my tone has remained essentially the same: caustic, sarcastic, and angry.  My father died prematurely of mesothelioma. My brother-in-law (an integral part of my family for as long as I can remember) died of silicosis. Both my grandfathers died on the job, as well as a great uncle. My brother suffered a serious head injury which erased much of his memory of his childhood. My other brother’s best friend died after being scalded to death on the job. A childhood acquaintance of mine fell into a vat of acid and took over a week to die. My friend and colleague died after a surgery to correct an injury he had suffered thirty years prior, and I have lost count of how many people I knew who died on the job or from industrial illnesses.  

I have a right to be angry.  I am angry at middle managers who see dying at work as part of the job. I’m angry at the snake oil salesmen who see the death and misery only as a means of making a profit. They pollute the landscape of industry with convoluted theories and obtuse models. I’m angry at safety people who say they are doing the best that they can when what they mean is I am making a good living punching a clock. And I am angry at professional organizations that only want to promote the status quo.

I’m tired of people standing on the sidelines shrugging and asking, “What do you want me to do?” I want people to get in the game. Not just people with “safety” in their titles but the people who run the mills, and mines, and oil rigs, and warehouses. I want people to care about the fact that homicide has jumped from the ninth leading cause of death in the workplace to the sixth leading cause. I could scream at all the people rushing to provide training on how to survive a workplace violence event by telling people things appropriate to mass shootings.  Everyone of these drooling, greedy, slime-balls see mass shootings as a commercial for their snake oil, and giving people bad advice is worse than giving people no advice.

The conventional wisdom of protecting yourself against workplace violence is: run, hide, fight back.  While this might be good advice for a mass shooting it is stupid advice for a workplace shooter. Some smug turd might want to argue with me on this, but mass shootings are largely unpredictable and attacks on soft targets will remain attractive to domestic terrorists.  The mass shooter wants to kill many people and while they may espouse some ideology, the reality is that these people are just murderous scum who want to kill people.

The lone gunman in the workplace (over 80% are committed by men with guns) has a specific target or targets of his rage.  He is typically going to kill either his boss/HR manager or more likely kill his estranged wife or girlfriend. If you aren’t either of these people, and don’t try to intervene chances are you aren’t going to be harmed.  That doesn’t mean you can relax, however. Unlike a mass shooting, workplace violence is predictable and largely preventable, although it remains outside the purview of the typical Safety Function.

Here are some things companies can do to reduce their risk of a workplace shooting: (lifted from my book Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention )


Preventing workplace violence begins with recruiting, and it is easy enough to weed out those who are likely to lose it and shoot up the place. It is more sensitive, but no less important to identify and protect, potential targets of workplace violence.  These days the best place to figure out who someone REALLY is to go to their social media accounts. If a person posts, or allows his friends to post, hate speech you have to ask yourself if that is someone you want on your team. Another indicators is belligerence, I tend to prod and poke my audience in an effort to get them to think. It’s my job. But if you are considering someone to work in accounting, they probably don’t have to be a provocateur to make the math work.  Similarly, volatile posts where a person flies into a rage when someone disagrees with him or her can indicate someone who has a bad temper and you can extrapolate from there what they will be like when someone eats their tuna sandwich. There are a lot more predictors in my book, but I’ve learned that people today when they can steal, but I would like to give you one more indicator: no social media presence. Erasing your social media page, using a pseudonym (here’s a hint, look for someone’s name spelled backwards or someone using their middle name as his or her last name). In short, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to weed out the hot tempered and the crazies.  Speaking of that, an ex employer of mine has implemented a zero crazy hiring policy. He has all his key staff interview a candidate and if anyone smells crazy the candidate is not hired.


Prevention does stop with a perusal of one’s social media, a background check (including a look at the national domestic violence database, sex offender registry, and active criminal tracking systems is important.  These are all free and all it takes is a couple of keystrokes.

The interview process has to change dramatically if you are going to weed out the predators and protect the prey, but if you want to know how, reach your grubby little hand into your wallet and buy the book.

The book contains a lot more—and given that I have written articles on this subject for Professional Safety magazine, ISHN, Entrepreneur, and Thrust Global—I think I have given you enough free advice for one week. I hope you will buy the book, it has become a passion project for me. It wouldn’t kill you to pick up a copy of I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business too, but after giving you free advice for 13 years for no compensation (except for some ice cleats for which I am forever grateful) I can’t honestly see anyone decided to pay for something for which they feel entitled.

I am proud to announce my second book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention. has been released by Marriah Publishing. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives and HR leads (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.) I’m proud of this book because it really can help you save lives, maybe even your own.

It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback at Amazon or Barnes & Noble 

I should warn you, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights.The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence.  But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is pepper with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) 

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and you might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain forest

and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly.  All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine is gone, and you can basically only go back 2 years on my blog (8 year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck.) And besides, about a third of the book is new material that cannot be found anywhere else. So buy it. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more it can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes &