248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By: Dan Cohen – 2/26/16

I just wonder if there will ever be a day again that I can turn on the news and not hear about an act of terrorism or someone randomly shooting innocent people. The latest victims worked at Excel Industries, which manufactures lawn care equipment in its Hesston, Kansas factory. Yesterday, at about 5:00 p.m., Cedric Ford, returned to Excel’s factory, where approximately 150 of his co-workers were working, and went on a shooting rampage shooting literally anyone who came into his sight. In all, four employees (including Ford) were killed and

another 14 injured (10 critically).

Ford has been described as a “mellow guy,” and “someone I could talk to about anything.” One co-worker indicated that, “never in a million years” would he think Ford was capable of doing something like this. The authorities, however, have indicated that “there [were] some things that triggered this particular individual.” In the coming days, I am sure there will be a whole lot more to this horrific story and what “triggering” factors may have caused Ford to act out as he did. However, it is scary to think that some of Ford’s co-workers did not think he was capable of such violence. Usually, it is just the opposite.

From 2006 to 2010, the last year for which final statistics are available, an average of 551 workers died each year in work-related homicides, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly 20% of those were multiple-fatality homicides in which two or more workers were killed. These numbers compare to the numbers in the 1990s, when I first started counseling employers on workplace violence prevention strategies. It will be interesting to know what risk factors were present and whether they were known to anyone, but certainly, at this point, nobody has come forward with information that Ford was perceived to be a threat, that others were scared of him or they were not surprised.

Employers should be watching this case as it unfolds because of the implications it may have on keeping their own workplaces safe. Often, there are warning signs which exist and which can be managed with proper threat assessment and prevention strategies. Do not misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that Excel missed any opportunities here to detect a problem and prevent the shootings. It is just too early to even raise that question. However, as facts are released, those of us who have experience with threat assessment and workplace violence prevention may be able to offer some constructive ideas for other employers. I don’t like to Monday morning quarterback such incidents, but the reality is that case studies of shootings help employers devise policies, plans and training protocols that can be used to increase their chances of never having to face such a tragedy.

While not all inclusive, some or the recognized risk factors include:

  •  History of violence, including prior threats, incarceration for violence, acts against animals
  • Mental Illness, including paranoia, depression and suicidal tendencies
  • Making or referencing lists or expressing a plan
  • Recent loss at work (discharge, denial of grievance, etc)
  • Lack of support system
  • Financial desperation or feeling of hopelessness
  • Extreme interest in or obsession with weapons and others shootings
  • Excessive discussions about weapons
  • Empathy with other shooters
  • Impulse control problems and willingness to exceed boundaries
  • Others expressing worry, nervousness about the individual

For a complete list of risk factors, please visit our website at www.mi-worklaw.com, and click on resources.