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Occupational Homicide -- Alaska, 1993

During 1980-1992, approximately two homicides occurred at work each year in Alaska; however, in 1993, homicide was the third most frequent cause of occupational fatality (n=11), following aircraft crash (n=23) and drowning (n=20). This report summarizes the 10 incidents resulting in these 11 occupational deaths in 1993.

Occupational homicide is defined as a fatality resulting from intentional nonself-inflicted injury (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision {ICD-9}, external cause-of-death codes E960-E969) that occurred in a work setting (as defined by standard guidelines {1}). Since 1991, the Alaska Occupational Injury Surveillance System (AOISS) * has received reports of fatal occupational injuries from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Alaska Department of Labor, the National Transportation Safety Board, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Fatal events that occur outside the primary jurisdictions of these agencies may not be reported. To identify additional occupational homicides, newspaper reports were screened daily, and death certificates were reviewed routinely. As of March 9, 1994, death certificates were available for 10 of the homicide victims, and reports from medical examiners were available for five. Law enforcement agencies provided information for one homicide event; reports on other events were withheld because of ongoing investigations and litigation.

All 11 occupational homicides occurred during May-October 1993; all victims were men, with a median age of 40 years (range: 22-50 years). Seven occurred on Saturdays, and four were in urban areas. Eight incidents involved firearms; a homemade bomb was used in one; and a knife was used in one. Two victims (in one incident) were maintenance personnel on a moored vessel; two were on-duty taxicab drivers, and one was an on-duty pilot for an air-taxi service. Other victims were a shopkeeper, a forester inspecting a logging camp, a painter driving a company truck from a remote worksite, an Army National Guardsman driving through an armory gate, a health aide attending a patient, and a security guard attempting to break up a fight.

In six of the 11 deaths (five of 10 incidents), the alleged assailants knew the victims, and in two others, they did not know the victims; this information was unavailable for three incidents. Three incidents occurred during a known or suspected robbery. Five events did not occur during any other crime, and adequate information to determine whether another crime was involved was unavailable for two incidents.

Reported by: GL Bledsoe, Occupational Injury Prevention Manager, JP Middaugh, MD, State Epidemiologist, Alaska Dept of Health and Social Svcs. Alaska Activity, Div of Safety Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: In 1993, the occupational homicide rate in Alaska was 4.1 per 100,000 workers; for 1980-1989, when an average of 2.2 occupational homicides (range: 0-5) occurred each year in Alaska, the annual rate was 1.1 per 100,000 workers in Alaska, compared with 0.7 per 100,000 for U.S. workers. Why the number and rate of occupational homicides in Alaska increased in 1993 is unclear; because the events in this report occurred during a single year, future surveillance for occupational homicide in Alaska is needed to characterize any trends.

The higher occupational homicide rate determined by AOISS may be, in part, the result of more complete ascertainment of incidents in Alaska than in the remainder of the United States. Newspaper reports can be used to identify homicide incidents rapidly. Death certificates have been used for homicide surveillance (2) but may not always be timely and must be supplemented with information from other official sources. For the cases in this report, legal authorities did not provide information on the accused assailants (e.g., psychiatric history or prior criminal records) that would permit further characterization of these homicide incidents.

Most occupational homicides in this report did not involve victims in known high-risk occupations (e.g., taxicab driver, late-night retail worker, and security guard {3,4}). In addition, only three of the events involved robberies, and the victims knew their assailants in most instances; these findings contrast with national data on occupational homicides, which more frequently involve robberies committed by strangers (3).

Four of the events reported here ensued when arguments escalated to violence; two others (the air-taxi pilot and forester) involved impulsive attacks. The availability of deadly force (a firearm in eight incidents) probably contributed to these deaths. A previous study has shown positive correlations between rates of household gun ownership and homicide rates (5). Reducing access to firearms may be particularly difficult to accomplish in Alaska, where gun dealership rates are the highest in the United States (6) and where a recent law (Chapter 67, SLA 94) provides a mechanism for Alaskans to obtain concealed weapons permits -- with a local (municipal) option to prohibit such permits. Interposing physical barriers between customers and service personnel may be considered for settings where workers must serve customers at late hours or in relative isolation. However, the effectiveness of such measures has not been determined (7).

Because most of the 1993 homicides in Alaska occurred on Saturdays, Alaskan workers, especially those who deal with customers or the public, should be alerted to the potentially heightened risk of homicide on weekends. U.S. homicides on weekends have been partly attributable to greater consumption of alcohol on weekends (8), but insufficient information was available to assess the impact of alcohol consumption on the events in this report.

All workers should be trained in conflict-resolution and nonviolent responses to potentially hazardous or threatening situations in the workplace (9). Preventable risk factors and practical preventive strategies for occupational homicide need to be evaluated in Alaska and other states. Expanded surveillance for violence-related injuries and fatalities has been proposed, as has a multifaceted prevention strategy incorporating education, legislation, and technology approaches (2). Expanded collaboration with timely sharing of information between public health and law enforcement agencies may facilitate development of strategies and interventions that address this public health problem (10).

References

  1. Association for Vital Records and Health Statistics.

Operational guidelines for determination of injury at work. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, NIOSH, NCHS, National Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, March 30, 1992.

2. Hammett M, Powell KE, O'Carroll PW, Clanton S. Homicide surveillance -- United States, 1979-1988. In: CDC surveillance summaries (May). MMWR 1992;41(no. SS-3):1-32.

3. Castillo D, Jenkins L. Industries and occupations at high risk for work-related homicide. J Occup Med 1994;36:125-32.

4. Kraus JF. Homicide while at work: persons, industries, and occupations at high risk. Am J Public Health 1987;77:1285-9.

5. Killias M. International correlations between gun ownership and victims of homicide and suicide. Can Med Assoc J 1993;148:1721-5.

6. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Federal firearms license holders. Washington, DC: US Department of the Treasury, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Office of Compliance Operations, May 1994.

7. Manitoba Taxicab Board. Taxi driver safety. Manitoba, Canada: Manitoba Taxicab Board, January 1992.

8. Baker SP, O'Neill B, Ginsburg MJ, Guohua L. The injury fact book. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

9. NIOSH. Preventing homicide in the workplace. Cincinnati: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, NIOSH, 1993; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)93-109. 10. Bell CA, Jenkins EL. Homicide in U.S. workplaces: a strategy for prevention and research. Morgantown, West Virginia: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, CDC, NIOSH, 1992; DHHS publication no. (NIOSH)92-103.

  • Maintained by CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Division of Safety Research, Alaska Activity.

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