Even a decade ago, the in-plant murders last week by a former employee at an Illinois engine plant might have produced a shock wave of reaction in the auto industry and a spate of new security measures.
But violence by disgruntled employees unfortunately has become common in the American workplace, and auto companies say there's not much more they can do to stop it.
Automakers and suppliers said they aren't ratcheting up their vigilance in the wake of the incident Monday, Feb. 5, in which a worker who was canned six years ago killed four employees and then himself at Navistar International Corp.'s engine plant in Melrose Park, Ill., near Chicago. They say they are doing everything they can to reduce the chance of such a bloodbath at their plants.
They also realize there is little they can do to prevent a determined killer from breaching their security. 'The man at Navistar hadn't even worked there for a long time, and he did encounter a security guard,' said Della DiPietro, a spokeswoman for Ford Motor Co. 'What else can you do?'
At each of its 37 plants in the United States, Ford has in place an emergency response team that includes representatives from management, the UAW, the human resources department and medical and security operations. Each team is trained in 'early intervention, response to critical incidences and response to employee concerns stemming from any critical incidences,' DiPietro said. The company also regularly reviews and updates its safety and security policies.
Those procedures have been in place since 1993, she said. Still, Ford's Wixom, Mich., assembly plant was the site of a slaying in November 1996, when a manager was shot to death by an intruder who came to the plant looking for his girlfriend.
TRW Inc.'s occupant safety systems business, which has five U.S. plants, regularly holds workshops on workplace violence for key managers. The company also has a badging system at each plant that controls access. 'There are a number of places where you can't even get into the building without inserting your badge' into the control, said company spokesman Gary Klasen.
'When an incident like (the Navistar killings) happens, you just make sure the policies you do have in place are the ones being followed and continue to stay on top of them,' Klasen said.
An executive of one automaker suggests security could be stiffened. But he asked: 'Do you have everyone go through a metal detector every time they come into the plant? Is that practical, from the plant-population point of view, with just the sheer volume of people? Does the risk-benefit situation really warrant that?'
A number of auto suppliers, including Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. and Lear Corp., declined to comment because they said they didn't want to share information that might compromise security systems in their plants.