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Workplace Violence

Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn

The tragic shooting deaths of two journalists during a live on-air broadcast who worked for WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia by a former colleague who was fired from his job is an example of “the widespread prevalence of workplace violence,” according to a CNN Political Commentary posted on the website.

In “The real issue behind killings of TV journalists,” CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis wrote that the killings of reporter Alison Parker and photographer Adam Ward led “politicians and ideologues” to argue about issues “while skipping the elephant in the room: the widespread prevalence of workplace violence.”

Louis cited National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) statistics that found workplace violence was “still startlingly frequent” despite the number of cases dropping in recent years. As of 2009, 521 people were killed on the job, which he noted “averages out to more than 10 lives lost every week.”

Louis wrote that workplace violence could cost the nation as much as an estimated $36 billion a year and suggested that the focus should be on “teaching the public how to spot, prevent, and defend against workplace violence” since “these practices helped bring about a steep drop in workplace violence.”

WDBJ7 reported that police said Vester Lee Flanagan II, 41, shot and killed Parker, 24, and Ward, 27, while the two WDBJ employees were conducting a live interview on the morning of August 26, 2015. Parker and Ward died at the scene while the woman being interviewed had non-life threatening injuries.

Flanagan – a former employee of WDBJ-TV who used the on-air name of Bryce Williams – fled the scene and was later spotted by law enforcement in a rented car on a highway. After refusing to stop and crashing the vehicle, he was found with a self-inflicted gunshot wound and later died, WDBJ7 reported.

A Statement about Vester Flanagan’s employment history at WDBJ7 revealed that Flanagan was employed by WDBJ7 as a reporter between March 2012 and February 2013. He applied for the position using the on-air name of Bryce Williams and his background check resulted in positive references.

But according to the statement: On February 1, two news managers and the HR business partner notified Flanagan of the decision to terminate his employment. He reacted angrily, telling them that they would have to call the police because he was going to “make a stink and it was going to be in the headlines.”

At his desk, Flanagan attempted to reach the corporate CEO, without success. At that point, police arrived and escorted him from the building. On the way out, he handed a wooden cross to the news director and said, “You’ll need this.” He also made a derogatory comment to Adam Ward as he left.

Flanagan filed a complaint of harassment and discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). WDBJ7 responded that the claims were unfounded and the EEOC denied the claim. Flanagan filed a civil action in local court in Roanoke that was dismissed, the statement said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as “any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.” Nearly 2 million American workers report being victims of workplace violence each year.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), there were 397 workplace homicides in 2013, falling 16 percent from 475 in 2012. Shootings were the most frequent manner of death in workplace homicides. More information is available at OSHA’s Workplace Violence page.

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