This manuscript describes firearm workplace homicides by violence typology, motivation, and circumstance from 2011 to 2015 nationwide. The findings here are consistent with existing literature that documents the typology of workplace homicide incidents varies by motivation and circumstance (Konda et al., 2014; Gurka et al., 2009; Moracco et al., 2000). However, unlike the prior contributions, this study indicates that non-robbery crimes now account for almost 50% of workplace homicides. This is a departure from previous estimates that found non-robbery crimes accounted for approximately one-third of workplace homicides (Konda et al., 2014; Gurka et al., 2009; Moracco et al., 2000; Loomis et al., 2002). Moreover, examining the yearly trends of robbery versus non-robbery crimes shows a steady downward trend of robbery crimes versus an erratic, upward trend in non-robbery crimes. This suggests the recent increase in workplace homicides is driven by non-robbery crimes.
Consistent with previous literature, we found that arguments were the most common circumstance among non-robbery workplace homicides (Konda et al., 2014; Moracco et al., 2000), and that customer-employee (Type II) and employee-employee (Type III) altercations constitute a large portion of argumentative workplace homicides, particularly in the retail industry (Konda et al., 2014). This paper further contextualizes these relationships. Customers and employees either accessed their firearm directly on their person or retrieved their firearm from another location. Thus, among the firearm workplace homicides for which firearm access points could be categorized, immediate as well as nearby firearm access appeared to play a role in escalating arguments into workplace homicides, particularly for customers and employees. This finding supports research from Loomis and colleagues (2005) that employee firearm access at work may lead to increased odds of a workplace homicide, and speaks to the important role firearm exposure may play in workplace deaths (Loomis et al., 2005).
An increase in firearm exposure within the general public may be partially responsible for this change. From the mid 1990’s to now many states have loosened laws regarding who can carry a concealed firearm, or eliminated oversight altogether (Webster et al., 2017; Siegel et al., 2017). States that have changed their laws in recent years have higher proportions of loaded handgun carrying than states that did not adopt such laws (Rowhani-Rahbar et al., 2017). Increased handgun carrying likely affects firearm exposure for employees, as more customers or fellow employees may be armed or have nearby access to a firearm. The increase in non-robbery firearm workplace homicides may be at least partially attributable to increases in firearm exposure in the workplace. Causal examinations of policies that increase firearm exposure are needed to assess this claim.
Restricting customer and employee firearm access in the workplace could reduce argumentative workplace homicides. Employers’ rationale for allowing firearms in their workplace is not known, but protection is a likely motivation. Findings from this research offer a direct counterpoint. Allowing customers or employees to carry firearms may lead to fatal outcomes for disagreements that otherwise might not have turned deadly. Previous literature noted de-escalation training for employees as a possible prevention strategy for reducing argumentative workplace homicides (Konda et al., 2014). This type of training includes teaching employees to identify warning signs of aggression and how to calm agitated individuals (Anderson & Clarke, 1996). These prevention strategies have proven efficacious in the health care setting (Martinez, 2016) but have not been widely examined in the general workforce. It is important to note that, as CFOI contains only workplace deaths, the number of workplace homicides prevented by an employee having a firearm is unknown and should be considered. However, we identified 8 cases in which an armed employee had their own weapon used against them.
This research presents a new way of considering workplace homicide circumstances. As the number of non-robbery workplace homicides have increased over the years, it is important to fully characterize these deaths. We offer an alternative to the existing classification structure presented by Konda and colleagues (2014) (Konda et al., 2014), adding conflicts to the existing categories of arguments and other circumstances. We believe it is important to consider conflicts separately as these types of workplace homicides are interpersonal in nature yet lack enough detail in the narrative text to conclude they stemmed from an observable argument. Moving forward, categorizing workplace homicides into arguments, conflicts, and other circumstances will help researchers and policy makers develop targeted prevention efforts.
Further, this paper offers the first accounting of the number of workers who died from a terrorist or spree-based mass shooting. A previous examination of non-robbery workplace homicides, conducted using data from 2003 to 2008, did not include mass shootings as a death circumstance (Konda et al., 2014). As public health officials develop preventive policies and interventions to stem the recent rise in mass shootings in the U.S. (Cohen et al., 2014), worker safety and health should be considered.
We could assess firearm access points in 292 of the 1553 firearm workplace homicides. Homicide incidents with sufficient narrative text to assess how perpetrators accessed their firearms were largely arguments. Argumentative deaths may have created additional sources of information for investigators to assess how perpetrators accessed their firearms (i.e., witnesses, security footage). This additional information may have allowed for richer narrative text about the incident compared to other types of workplace homicides, explaining why almost 80% of the death events with sufficient narrative detail to determine firearm access points were based in an argument.
CFOI is a well-established, national surveillance system that provides the most comprehensive counts of workplace deaths. However, CFOI is not without limitations. First, CFOI’s Restricted Data File does not contain state identifiers so we were unable to examine within-state trends. We were unable to assign typology in 146 (9.4%) of the 1553 deaths due to insufficient narrative text data, though this percentage is lower than has been previously reported by Gurka and colleagues (2009) (18% unknown typology) and Tiesman and colleagues (2012) (16% unknown typology) (Gurka et al., 2009; Tiesman et al., 2012). The effect of these unknown homicides on the frequencies presented here is unknown. As such, the frequencies generated may not be representative of the true firearm workplace homicide incidence from 2011 to 2015. Further, as this study does not provide rates of firearm-related workplace homicide, it is possible the upward trend in non-robbery motivated workplace homicides is explained through an increase in the overall workplace participation rate. However, an increase in workplace participation would not fully explain the downward trend of robbery motivated crimes, suggesting a minimal limitation. While we used a systematic approach, and relied on existing literature to classify motive, circumstance, typology, and firearm access points, misclassification may have occurred. To reduce the likelihood of misclassification, our methods mirrored those of past research using the CFOI Restricted Data File (Konda et al., 2014; Tiesman et al., 2012; Fayard, 2008). It is important to note that a limitation of this study, and all studies that utilize the CFOI Restricted Data file, is the difficulty faced when trying to categorized events into mutually exclusive categories based on, at times, very brief descriptions of the events. This study likely underrepresents the true impact of firearm violence as CFOI data does not contain information for non-workers. As the CFOI pertains only to deaths, no data on protective uses of firearms were available and are unknown; data pertaining to the burden of nonfatal workplace firearm violence was also missing in our data. Important to note, CFOI does not contain information on the total number of employees exposed to firearms while at work. Further, as firearm violence at work continues to be a public health issue, the CFOI should consider adopting new protocols to better understand how perpetrators access firearms, and to capture firearm exposure in general. A larger emphasis on understanding the circumstances around firearm violence within the workplace will inform future prevention efforts.