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Four hundred fifty-eight people were killed at work by another person using a gun or some other type of weapon during 2011. Homicide is the leading cause of workplace death for women in the United States. While Congress and state legislatures focus on restricting the sale of guns as a means of reducing murderous rampages outside the home, incidents of non-fatal workplace attacks, which are defined as rape or sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated or simple assault, numbered almost 600,000 during 2009, the most recent year for which this statistic is available. And violent crime is only the tip of the iceberg. The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) defines workplace violence as threats, verbal assaults and bullying, as well as physical attacks. Using that definition, approximately two million workers are victimized annually by their co-workers or the public they serve.
Workplace violence is an ever-present danger for which corporations, private organizations, and educational institutions need to be prepared. No organization can prevent every act of real or attempted violence, but every employer can take steps to provide their employees with a safe work environment.
What can be done?
OSHA has published guidelines for various high-risk groups, such as taxi-drivers, health care workers, and late-night retail store employees. But regardless of the industry, OSHA and the U.S. Government Office of Personnel Management (OPM) stress the importance of conducting adequate pre-employment screening of new hires to weed out previously violent, volatile, or unstable individuals. Stop the problems before they begin by identifying possible perpetrators.
But thorough vetting is not enough.
1. Establish Adequate Security Processes and Procedures
It is critical for an employer to establish security processes and procedures which keep dangerous, unstable, or violent third parties out of the workplace. Individually coded card key access, employee-badging, and locked entries and exits need to be assessed and fine-tuned regularly to ensure that they are customized to fit each specific organization’s needs. Businesses, schools, and military bases all have to prepare for and sometimes deal with workplace violence, but steps can be taken to mitigate internal and external incursions and threats.
Schools must protect students, teachers, coaches, other staff, and parents and other family members throughout the day and at after-school activities. An open school environment with classrooms, offices, locker rooms, gymnasiums, outdoor fields and other facilities present more security challenges than a business office with only one main entrance and a rather consistent set of employee occupants.
2. Develop a Workplace Violence Protection Program
OSHA recommends that every employer establish a no-tolerance policy for workplace violence, including any form of bullying and verbal or nonverbal threats. An employer should clearly define workplace violence in its Code of Conduct or other policies and procedures and provide multiple methods for reporting incidents of workplace violence.
To foster this policy, employers should make clear that no employee will suffer reprisals for reporting inappropriate conduct, and should establish a protocol for investigating reports of workplace violence and taking disciplinary and remedial action.
Create an Incident Response Team who will be responsible for addressing immediate threats. Develop a protocol and guidelines, and conduct drills, to prepare this team to respond appropriately to small and large, fatal and non-fatal incidents. If larger, more dangerous incidents do occur, all security staff, not just the Incident Response Team, must be well trained in the appropriate procedures to effectively and efficiently neutralize the dangerous party and minimize collateral damage.
By effectively implementing a top-down, management-supported Workplace Violence Protection Program, organizations can provide a safe and healthy working environment for all employees and guests, and minimize damage when unexpected events occur.
3. Conduct a Threat, Risk and Vulnerability Assessment regularly
An adequate threat, risk and vulnerability (TRV) assessment requires that C-suite personnel as well as representatives from security, human resources, legal, employee safety, and risk management functions, regularly analyze the workplace environment and identify any potential hazards and fix them. Top-down risk management insures identification of issues at every level of an organization and support for the design and implementation of immediate remedies.
Records that should be reviewed include at the very least incident reports, records relating to injuries or illnesses, sick-time records, workers compensation claims, records of damage or theft to equipment or data, other internal complaints, and all reports made to law enforcement.
Threat assessment is crucial to the initial stages of implementing a Violence Protection Program, to insure the biggest risk areas are pinpointed and corrected as soon as possible. Continual review of company policies and procedures is also necessary to insure ongoing safety.
4. Assess the Physical and Operational Security of the Workplace, and Address Weaknesses
The physical and operational security of a workplace should be evaluated by conducting a survey of the entire workplace premises, including parking facilities, as well as by reviewing reports of any crimes or incidents that have occurred recently. Security cameras, metal detectors, and alarm systems are important elements of a robust physical security program, and must be installed properly and used correctly by internal security staff.
Secure entranceways, with bullet-proof and shatter-proof glass, should be installed in areas where members of the public are allowed access to the workplace, especially in high risk areas like hospitals, banks, and schools. Working locks should be installed on all doors and windows. Silent alarm buttons should be available and in working order in all necessary areas, like classrooms and reception areas, and appropriate personnel should be provided with handheld radios.
Hallways and access ways should be kept clear of any large objects that could hinder evacuation during an emergency. Bright lighting indoors and outdoors should be used to promote safety at night. Consult OSHA’s guidelines for a full list of other appropriate security measures.
5. Provide Training to Employees
Training and education ensures that all employees recognize their duties and responsibilities to provide their colleagues with a safe environment and are able to identify emerging risks. All employees should be trained to respond to every level of workplace violence, including catastrophic events.
Every employee should receive training from the CEO down to the line-level staff member. Training also should be conducted regularly and should be updated to address new concerns or emerging risks. Any changes in physical security features should be identified to all employees immediately.