Detroit area shootings highlight work safety problems
Woodhaven — Workplace violence prevention programs with early identification should be in place at all companies, a risk assessment expert said after a worker shot himself to death Friday inside the Ford Stamping Plant.
Police said the worker, a 21-year-old part-time, temporary employee, took his own life, causing an evacuation of the Woodhaven facility.
Woodhaven Police Chief Robert Toth, in a statement Friday afternoon, identified the employee as Jacoby Hennings of Harper Woods. He turned a gun on himself after encountering police in a hallway near the administrative offices inside the Ford plant, the statement said.
The incident happened just after 9 a.m. but police did not say how Hennings got the firearm into the sprawling facility. The call came to police about “an employee with a gun.”
At a late morning briefing at the plant, Toth said the employee had worked at the factory since March.
Marilyn Knight, a risk management expert with Novi-based Incident Management Team, said workplace violence incidents like Friday’s shooting are not random, and there is no simple or easy explanation for them.
Employers need to anticipate problems and have procedures in place to handle them, Knight said.
Workplace violence prevention programs with early identification and internal and external risk assessments should be in place at companies, she said.
“If a employee is behaving in a (threatening) way, they need to have some mechanism to bring information to a threat assessment team ... to know what to do when they get one of those warning signs,” Knight said.
Often, Knight says, the perpetrator selects the workplace if they have a relationship or some conflict with the organization. But there typically are early warning signs that employers and co-workers might see.
“These are not just random acts of violence where someone woke up and grabbed a gun. There is a build-up and a justification if they are going to a particular location,” Knight said. “This act of violence is their suicide message. They do not intend to survive this. If they chose someplace that has contributed their their hopelessness and frustration, this is where they act it out.”
Kelli Felker, a Ford spokeswoman, said in an email that the company “prohibits all weapons on company property, including employee parking lots.”
“The safety of our workforce is our top priority,” she said. “We require all employees to enter the plant through turnstiles that require a badge for entry. We also have security guards in every plant.”
Officials with United Auto Workers Local 387, which represents workers at the plant, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Toth said no officers were involved in Friday’s gunfire. “No other employee or officers were harmed during this event,” he said. “There was no gunfire exchanged between our officers and the subject at all. When they did approach him and tried to identify him, that’s when the subject took the handgun and took his own life.”
When officers arrived, they called for the Michigan State Police bomb unit because there was an unattended backpack in an area leading up to “where the shooting actually occurred,” Toth said. But it was not the man’s backpack, he said.
All employees were accounted for, Toth said, adding that Ford closed the plant for the remainder of the day. It was unclear Friday afternoon when normal operations would resume at the plant.
The shooting was the second fatal incident of workplace violence in Metro Detroit in less than a week. On Monday, a woman fatally shot a co-worker inside the Burlington Coat Factory store in Taylor.
Sandra Lynette Waller has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Lorraine Maylynn Faison. Waller, 49, of Taylor, is accused of shooting Faison during a brief argument.
Nearly 2 million American workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but many more cases go unreported.
Neither OSHA nor the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration have specific standards addressing workplace violence.
A “general duty clause” compels businesses in Michigan to protect employees from hazards capable of causing serious harm when no other MIOSHA standard specifically addresses the hazard, said Kevin Ray, a spokesman with the state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
“Employees should not have to fear experiencing a workplace violence event in their workplace when there is evidence indicating the possibility of such an event,” Ray said. “In such cases, an employer must implement feasible measures to protect their employees from workplace violence events when threats have been made and/or an event has occurred.”
Employment attorney Deborah Gordon represented Roy Thacker, a manager from the Jeep plant in Toledo, in an age discrimination suit. A year later, in 2005, Thacker was shot and killed inside the plant by a disgruntled employee, she said.
Gordon said it’s becoming more common for disputes to lead to violence.
“An employment relationship can be a lot of frustration and anger. Lots of strong feelings can fester,” she said.
What employers can do, Gordon said, is have rules about bringing weapons into the workplace.
“Hopefully the Burlington case will make employers think twice and make sure workers know there’s a plan B,” Gordon said.
Jim Mangiapane, who was working in the Woodhaven plant at the time of the incident, said he didn’t know the man who killed himself. Workers didn’t realize what was going on until police and other first responders told them to get out of the building.
“You don’t really worry about that too much. You don’t think that it’s going to happen ...,” Mangiapane said.
Sarah Rahal contributed.