The most dangerous risk factor of all

On July 9, 2003, Douglas Williams walked into his workplace in Meridian, Mississippi and shot 15 people-killing five of them and himself. News reports after the fact indicated that coworkers considered Mr. Williams a "hothead." Exactly what set Williams off was not immediately clear, but coworkers said the 48-year-old assembler had had run-ins with management and several fellow employees. "Mr. Williams was mad at the world. This man had an issue with everybody," said coworker Hubert Threat.

Why did Williams do what he did? We cannot ask him, because he killed himself along with the others he murdered. So what can we learn from this terrible tragedy?

While I don't know all the security measures that were in place at his employer, I do know that many coworkers said they knew Williams had problems and was capable of killing someone. Did they tell management? I don't know. Could someone have predicted-and prevented-what happened? I'm sure many people are asking themselves that million-dollar question.

Some professionals believe that studies of workplace violence have amassed enough data to build a psychological profile of someone most likely to commit a potential act of violence.

While a "top eleven" list can be very helpful, something is missing. What is it? Denial. Denial from management that "it can't happen here" or "we've never had a problem before" or "we are too small to take security measures" or "we know everyone who works for us; we'd know everyone who works for us; we'd know if there really was a problem."

There is also denial by coworkers: "he doesn't really mean it" or "that's just the way he is" or "I would feel silly reporting this to management."

While all of the various indicators of workplace violence hold the potential for danger, I would remind you that denial of the potential for violence is probably the most dangerous factor of all.

Take a look around your workplace: Are you assuming things are safe? Are you assuming you know what your coworkers and employees are capable of doing or not doing? It is only by confronting the very real possibility of violence in your workplace that you can truly begin to make it safer. And CAEPV is here to assist you. Because denial has a price, and-like that horrible incident in Mississippi showed us-it is sometimes measured in human lives.

Kim Wells, Executive Director, Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence