Shortly before 7 a.m. on a sunny, pleasantly warm recent Thursday morning at B&L Landscape Company in Jacksonville, Florida, a 24-year-old employee there reportedly shot to death his 55-year-old foreman. According to The Florida Times-Union, the suspect told police he felt “disrespected” by his foreman.
I’m not shocked. Not anymore. Not after the tragic events at Excel Industries in Hesston, Kansas, the afternoon of Feb. 24 when an employee shot and killed three other employees and wounded 14 others before being killed by a brave lawman.
Given the dispiriting frequency of workplace violence I’m growing increasingly numb to reports of people shooting other people, often individuals they know and work with.
Little wonder the incident at the 35-year-old Florida landscape company just two weeks after the Excel Industries tragedy came as no surprise to me either, although I can’t recall similar incidents within the industry in more than 30 years of reporting on it.
But, rather than being shocked at this latest tragedy, maybe we should be asking ourselves why there have been so few such incidents in our industry prior to this. Have we just been lucky?
It would seem all of the ingredients leading to workplace confrontations (or worse) are present in our industry – the physical demands of the work in often-harsh conditions, relatively low wages and young, tough men working in close contact with each other.
Violence, especially gun violence, now seems firmly ingrained in U.S. culture. As I write this I am looking at a report of two gunmen who shot and killed five people at a backyard party at a home in Wilkinsburg, a small city just east of Pittsburgh. A week doesn’t go by without reports of a mass shooting somewhere in the country. Where will the next one be? Why? Many of these incidents are incomprehensible, seemingly senseless.
In the wake of these terrible incidents, should we be demanding stricter gun controls? Or is the better course for us to get proper training in firearm use, keep a weapon handy and be ready to defend ourselves in situations like those I’m sharing?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says nearly 2 million workers report being victims of workplace violence each year. Homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. OSHA reports that workplace homicides accounted for 403 of the 4,679 fatal workplace injuries in the country in 2014.
These statistics, backed up by recent events in the industry, more than suggest that business owners (especially landscape and lawn service company owners), develop and implement clear policies addressing issues related to heading off and (should the need arise) dealing decisively with workplace violence.