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‘Going Postal’ Is a Bad Rap, Study Finds

From the Washington Post

Letter carriers and mail handlers are no more likely to “go postal” than other workers, according to a comprehensive report released Thursday after two years of study.

“Going postal” entered the lexicon as shorthand for employee violence after a spate of homicides by U.S. Postal Service workers. But a Postal Service-mandated commission now attempts to debunk the phrase, which has given rise to a movie of the same name and a computer game called “Postal.”

Of 6,719 workplace homicides from 1992 to 1998, 16 were postal employees, and nine of those were killed by current or former co-workers. Postal Service staffers are only one-third as likely as those in the national work force to be victims of homicide while at work, the USPS Commission on a Safe and Secure Workplace reported.

“ ‘Going postal’ is a myth, a bad rap, causing unnecessary apprehension and fear among 900,000 postal workers,” commission chairman Joseph A. Califano Jr. said.

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But the commission said it could not “compare with any precision” whether staff in other professions were any more or less likely than postal workers to kill colleagues rather than relatives or strangers.

An analysis of 29 homicide incidents from 1986 to 1999 showed that 15 current or former postal employees killed 34 of their colleagues, with 19 nonpostal workers fatally attacking 14 Postal Service staff.

According to the report, retail employees were eight times more likely than postal workers to be killed at work, with 2.10 workplace homicides per 100,000 from 1992 through 1998. Taxi drivers are 150 times likelier than letter carriers to be homicide victims at work.

John Challenger, who deals with workplace violence as chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm, said it did not come as any surprise that the retail trade was more dangerous.

“Convenience stores have always been susceptible because they run 24-7. They’re located in all sorts of environments, including areas in cities with higher crime rates, so you can see how there’s extra stress there,” he said.

But people don’t talk about “going retail.” According to Jerry Rubenstein, a psychologist at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, that’s because the public has developed a distorted picture of postal workers’ propensity to commit violence.

Two of the most highly publicized workplace homicides were committed by postal workers. In 1986, letter carrier Patrick Henry Sherrill killed 14 co-workers and himself at the Edmond, Okla., post office. Five years later, Thomas McIlvane killed four co-workers and himself at the Royal Oak, Mich., post office.


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