Figures from the US show that, with an estimated 350 fatalities a year, homicide is now the third highest cause of death at work. Indeed, such is the perceived scale of the problem - typically perpetrated by an unstable, disaffected employee - that the American Society for Training and Development has produced a guide for companies on how to deal with the threat. The causes, it explains, are primarily economic: widespread redundancies, authoritarian workplace cultures, mergers and downsizings and an emphasis on business being 'lean and mean' have all played a role. Add to this the increased availability of firearms and the effect can be deadly. 'If an employer pushes people long enough, at some point they will push back,' warns one counsellor. Most at risk is the personnel director, who, often in the case of redundancies, is the unfortunate messenger.
Things here, for the moment at least, are rather different. The most recent annual figures for England and Wales record just five incidents of murder in the workplace. Rani Bains of Personal Performance Consultants UK, Britain's largest provider of employee assistance programmes, notes the low incidence of such acts in Britain but observes the disturbing tendency of trends to cross the Atlantic. Homicide is hopefully the exception.