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NEW ORLEANS — The steps necessary to protect employees against acts of workplace violence — a leading cause of workplace fatalities — can begin during the interview process, where employers can put tools to work to better study candidates and avoid hiring potentially dangerous workers, according to a workplace safety expert.
“If we can predict them, we can protect the people and we can prevent this,” said Phil La Duke, principal consultant, Detroit-based Environmental Resources Management and longtime safety consultant to a roomful of safety professionals at the Volunteer Protection Program Participants Association’s Safety +, Integrated Safety & Health Management Systems Symposium in New Orleans on Wednesday.
Mr. La Duke, who used his more than three decades in workplace safety and other research to write the book “Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook on Workplace Violence Prevention,” said one of the issues that stood out for him was the ability for employers to research job candidates and weed out ones with potential mental health issues, which have been connected to incidents of workplace violence.
“It begins before you even have the candidate in the interview,” he told attendees, providing a list of places to look for information with the first stop being social media.
Look for “aggressive or angry posts, racist, misogynist, or otherwise offensive posts, look at their friends’ posts” for ways to gauge whether a person is angry or has possible mental health problems — "red flags,” according to Mr. La Duke.
“Look for hotheads” on social media, he said. “Do they have an obsession with guns or mass shootings… if you see all their (posts are) reporting on violent events,” it could be a warning, he added.
Ironically, he said, another warning sign is “an absence of social media presence.”
“In an age where we have 88-year-old grandmoms with Facebook accounts, do you find it a bit odd or suspicious when you see someone with no social media presence,” he said, adding that oftentimes people can hide behind pseudonyms on social media.
Another avenue for research on a candidate is a thorough background check, according to Mr. La Duke. Sex offender registries, arrest records, the National Domestic Abuse Database, restraining orders filed in local courts, and reference checks should all be a part of better understanding a candidate, he said, adding that oftentimes employers forgo the background dig to save time and money.
Drug testing is another way to better understand a job candidate, he said, lamenting on the fact that employers are admittedly not prescreening potential employees because too many are coming back positive for such drugs as marijuana, which is now recreationally legal in nine states — a concern that is trending in workplace safety circles.
Another tip is to look for lies in the interview process, he said, giving attendees a tip on how to go about it: “Establish a base line. Ask questions no one would lie about. ‘Is it still raining outside?’ Most people would not lie about that. Make little small talk, and then you start to ask questions that most people lie about,” such as job history or gaps on their resume. “Let these people talk; they will sink themselves if they are a bad candidate,” he said, urging employers to study eye contact and other nonverbal cues such as sweating or blushing — indicators one might be lying.
Mr. La Duke also urged employers not to ignore warning signs because a potential hire might have the right technical skills — another hiring pitfall, he said.
“The best candidate in the world that exhibits a penchant for violence is not the best candidate,” he said. “You can train people to do their job; you can’t train people to not be mentally unstable.”
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