Safe at Work

The search continues for answers to violence in the workplace. Recently, a man wearing military fatigues opened fire on employees at a Ford Motor Co. auto plant in Wixom, Mich., killing one person and wounding two others. The suspect didn't work at the Ford factory and allegedly was angry when security guards tried to prevent him from entering the building.

In August, a disgruntled Ford worker at another plant killed a supervisor and himself. And last December, a Chrysler employee killed a co-worker he had been dating and then shot himself. Tragically, the list goes on - and not only in the automobile manufacturing industry. Each week in the United States, an average of 20 workers are murdered and 18,000 are assaulted at work, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Taxi drivers, convenience store clerks, security guards, and police officers are killed almost daily, NIOSH points out, but it's the more sensational cases, like the one at Ford, that capture the news media's - and thus the public's - attention. The danger, NIOSH says, is that we are simply reacting to these individual cases rather than focusing on prevention.

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Though there's not one single strategy to prevent violence, there are practical steps companies can - and in many cases are - considering: installing metal detectors, using more effective lighting, providing at least two exits. Ford is among those considering additional security measures at its plants, but it says some options aren't feasible. Metal detectors, for example, won't work because of the vast amount of equipment carried into the plants, and searching individuals for weapons is difficult because of the thousands of people who move in and out on shifts each day.

Clearly prevention at Ford and elsewhere has to go beyond more security guards, turnstiles, better lighting systems, and even legislative efforts. As NIOSH says, the murder of an average of 20 workers a week is unacceptable and should never be considered the cost of doing business in American society.

Ultimately, curbing workplace violence means taking steps to counter the negative trend toward violence in society as a whole. To that end, radio stations across the country took part in the sixth annual Stop the Violence day recently. The purpose was to encourage listeners to take a public stand against violence and, in the process, to demonstrate community solidarity.

Taking a public stand is effective. In fact, such an opportunity is available every day. The Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: "God has endowed man with inalienable rights, among which are self-government, reason, and conscience." We all have a right to work in an environment where those "rights" are in evidence - and where violence, therefore, is absent. None of us is helpless to bring about a change.

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