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Book Forum: VIOLENCE   |    
AJP nov97 Book Forum ? New Arenas for Violence: Homicide in the American Workplace
Gail Erlick Robinson, M.D., F.R.C.P.(C)
Am J Psychiatry 1997;154:1621-a-1622.
View Author and Article Information
Toronto, Ont., Canada

by Michael D. Kelleher. New York, Praeger Publishers (Greenwood Publishing Group), 1996, 187 pp., $55.00.

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In the 1980s, homicide was the third leading cause of all death in the workplace and the leading cause of death for women in the workplace. There is little information about this potentially fascinating and important topic, but that did not stop the author from writing five chapters about it. Kelleher specializes in threat assessment and crisis management and resolution for organizations and should be well-suited to write on this subject. Unfortunately, he is also unnecessarily verbose and repetitive and would have profited from the services of a good editor. The author also complicates his task by linking together cases of violence by co-workers, by clients, kidnapping for ransom, and domestic violence. Grouping all of these together probably makes it much more difficult to find any common themes or identifying factors.

The first two chapters dwell, repeatedly, on the fact that the data on occupational homicide are poor but violence is common and a bad thing. The author presents a new categorization of violence that he says has been validated. Since this is merely a list of all the possible relationships between the offenders and the victims, it is not clear what is meant by "validated." Chapter 3 is interesting in that it presents a number of case examples. Unfortunately, in trying to make his point and illustrate his different categories, the author often alleges two cases to be very similar when there are hardly any resemblances between them and makes superficial assessments or leaps from a one-sentence case scenario to numerous hypotheses about circumstances and offenders' motivations.

Chapter 4 goes into detail about prevention techniques. Fifteen different suggestions are made concerning prevention, some of which are very solidly based while others remain impossibly expensive or idealistic. Chapter 5 is virtually a more succinct recapitulation of Chapter 4 with a summary in which the author comes to such conclusions as, "Occupational homicide is the result of a convergence of actions from multiple sources" and that there is an "interplay between perpetrators, managers, staff and (possibly) others."

There is some very good advice concerning workplace safety in the book. Managers should pay attention to high-risk situations and never relax security measures. There should be protection of personal information concerning employees. Any threats of violence should be taken seriously, and the management needs to listen to employees who voice their concerns about threats by co-workers. There is a need for better treatment of employees whose employment is terminated. Identification of workplace stress, consciousness of safety in environmental design at work, and the use of an employee assistance program can all decrease the risks of violence in the workplace.

Other suggestions are highly impractical or implausible. The author suggests that all workers should be able to identify potential offenders even though numerous lists are cited showing that most offenders are male, white, and of working age—hardly distinct identifiers. Employers are advised to use extensive background checks of all workers with multiple interviews and interviewers. The authors note the importance of paying attention to a worker who threatens violence and acts crazy, but most cases of workplace homicide are perpetrated by individuals who appear perfectly normal and are totally unpredictable.

This book is useful in that it provides information about violence prevention resources and an outline of a crisis management plan. For those interested, the book may also stimulate ideas about useful research and planning that could be done in this very interesting area.




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