Chicago Plant Rocked By Workplace Shooting

As many as five people are dead and four others wounded after a former employee walked into a Melrose Park, Ill., engine plant Monday morning and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle and a pistol.

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As many as five people are dead and four others wounded after a former employee walked into a Melrose Park, Ill., engine plant Monday morning and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle and a pistol.

The shootings took place at a Navistar International plant in suburban Chicago.

William D. Baker, the shooter, was a tool room attendant that had worked at the Melrose Park plant for 39 years before he was fired in 1994 for stealing.

He shot four employees before turning the weapon on himself.

The 66-year old former employee was to begin a federal prison term today for helping steal engines and parts from the company totaling $195,400.

He was sentenced last November and was put under house arrest for five months following his prison term. He was also required to pay restitution of $194,500.

The plant, that employs about 1,400 people, was immediately shut after the shootings but reopened this morning.

The company said it is providing counseling for the employees and families. Navistar International is the nation''s second-biggest producer of heavy-duty trucks, which it sells under the International brand.

Companies Can Take Steps To Limit Workplace Violence

The shootings at the Navistar plant raise employee safety concerns for companies and their staffs. As a result, companies should review their policies on limiting violence in the workplace, a Chicago law firm advised.

Homicide is the second-leading cause of workplace death in the United States. In 1998, for example, there were more than 8,000 serious on-the-job assaults.

"The bad news is that workplace violence is becoming more widespread across a broader range of companies and not-for-profit organizations," said Kathryn Hartrick, a partner with the Chicago law firm of Strickler & Nelson, who advises employers on employment issues, including violence. "However, there is some good news for employers. There are usually warning signs that precede an outbreak of violence in the workplace. As a result, employers can take preventive steps to minimize the chances of assaults and deadly attacks."

According to Hartrick, there are three key ingredients that most often contribute to lethal work-related violence:

  • An employee who has a heightened potential for violence. Potentially violent employees may have a substance abuse problem, experience mental illness, or harbor a long-standing perception of being treated unfairly by an employer.
  • A workplace environment that can be a catalyst for an unstable or angry employee. High-pressured, fast-paced, low-paying workplaces can be high-risk environments for employees pre-disposed to violence.
  • A triggering event experienced by a company employees, either on-the-job or at home. This could include the termination or layoff of an employee or a personal setback such as a divorce or the break-up of a relationship.

Other factors, including the lack of social support and the accessibility of guns can also play a role in workplace violence, Hartrick noted.

Although there are no foolproof steps to prevent workplace violence, Hartrick said companies can establish and implement comprehensive workplace violence policies.

Key elements in a strong prevention program, according to Hartrick include:

  • Assessment of high-risk employees and workplace stress factors.
  • Creation of a crisis intervention action plan.
  • Incorporation of violence prevention measures, policies and protocols as part of an employee relations program.
  • Development of a management level committee to monitor ongoing risks of violence.
  • Anticipating volatile behavior when high-risk employees are disciplined, demoted or lose their jobs.

Hartrick said it is important that companies set up clear lines of communication, all along the reporting chain, regarding the monitoring of aberrant employee behavior, including verbal and physical threats.

Employers should implement a zero-tolerance policy toward any kind of violence, with clearly communicated disciplinary measures following any threats.

"Companies should use every tool possible to create a safe working environment," said Hartrick. "Many employers are uncomfortable confronting mental health and personality issues, which are frequently the basis for hostile behavior. But in order to maximize on-the-job safety, management needs to be tuned into the behaviors that are high-risk."

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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