There aren't any definitive signs and I should emphasize that work place violence of this kind is quite rare. There are some signs that raise concern, though. A history of violence is one of the strongest signs of potential violence,
It largely depends on your relation with the coworker. If you're close, you might speak with the individual. If not, your best bet is to speak with someone from HR who can evaluate the situation without potentially compromising your relationship with your co-worker.
A lot depends on context and how the issue is broached. If you're unsure, you should limit yourself to contacting your HR department--particularly if you're concerned that your co-worker might react badly.
Pre-employment evaluations are going to vary a lot from workplace to workplace, so it's hard for me to say how your specific workplace pre-screens. In general, work place violence is rare, so it's more important to pre-screen for employee fit. Part of that evaluation might be looking at criminal record or a history of violence, to the degree that it's possible.
Similarly, that's going to vary between workplaces. Your
best bet is to contact your own HR department to find out the specific policies of your workplace.
You're getting at larger political questions that are outside of my expertise--not that I'll necessarily let that stop me from commenting... Given that murder is already potentially subject to the death penalty, it's not clear to me that increased punishment is going to change behavior of this kind; and frankly, what would an increased punishment be?
You're right that your co-worker's behavior may simply represent an idiosyncrasy of his, or it could represent something more significant. If your company has a human relations department you could reach out to them, or you could speak with your supervisor about how his behavior is making you feel. Unless, the two of you are very close, I would hold off on speaking with him yourself, given that you don't know what's driving this.
To the degree that this kind of behavior is clearly irrational, I would say that shooters are typically mentally ill. That said, many shooters have been formally diagnosed with a psychiatric illness.
If you feel like you're being abused by co-workers, it can be important to notify your supervisor so they can address your concerns. That is typically much better than simply feeling aggrieved while the behavior continues. You don't want to let your emotions get the best of you, and lead you to do anything you'll regret.
It does seem like these are common, but that's an artifact of the national reach of our media. Deadly workplace incidents of this kind are still quite rare. I suspect they grab our attention because it's something with which we can all relate. And because the often random nature of the killings can be particularly frightening.
Although it can seem like random violence is a daily occurrence, crime rates nationally are actually going down; you're probably safer now
than you would have been any time over the last few decades. Of course any violence is too much, in the workplace or elsewhere. It's worthwhile thinking about what we can do to address potential violence as proactively as possible.
I don't see how the victims could have protected themselves. One can speak of "situational awareness" but this kind of unprovoked and unexpected attack is probably something against which it isn't possible to be prepared.
newsroom worker, you should absolutely bring this to the attention of someone in authority. Not just because of the effect your colleague is having on the work environment--you may be doing them a favor as well. It is possible that your co-worker doesn't understand the effect they are having on you and others in the newsroom. It's better for them to have a chance to address their behavior before negative reviews show up in an employee evaluation.
I can't say why someone would make false accusations of any kind without knowing more about the situation. If someone is making accusations about you at work though, that would be something to bring up with human relations or your/their supervisor.
People don't always understand that they need help, or feel like there's some sort of stigma attached to seeing a psychiatrist or other behavioral health worker. It can feel like you're powerless, but if you're passing your concerns to your supervisor or HR you're doing the right thing to try to address your situation.
We can never be absolutely safe--and in the end everyone, with some possible exceptions that fall outside of my area, dies
. All we can do is to make ourselves as safe as possible, by taking reasonable precautions. However, more preventable deaths are related to our failure to get preventative health care than violence. Statistically, the best way to keep yourself safe is probably to make an appointment with your primary care provider.
Thanks to everyone who joined us for our chat today.