Workplace Violence Awareness, Best Practices and Action Plan

workplace violence awareness

Workplace violence is a real problem in the United States. The National Safety Council (NSC) reports that assaults resulted in 18,400 injuries and 458 fatalities in 2017 (the most recent year with available data). The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) estimates rape and sexual assault account for 2.3% of all nonfatal workplace violence, with 80% of those victims being female.

Some courts even believe employees have a duty to report the crimes of their coworkers, even when they don’t occur in the workplace. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found 75% of people are comfortable working or doing business with someone who has a nonviolent criminal record. That number drops to 33% for criminals with a violent past.

It may be due to the fact that homicides account for approximately 10% of workplace fatalities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Three of the top 10 most deadly workplace shootings in U.S. history occurred in the past five years.

This included the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting that claimed the lives of 14 and injured 21 and the 2019 mass shootings in Virginia Beach and El Paso. The Virginia Beach municipal building shooting murdered 12 and injured 4, while the El Paso Walmart shooting killed 9 and injured 27.

Exposure to any violence, from a simple fisticuff fist-fight to a mass shooting, has detrimental effects on the overall health of society. This report will explore these effects and the causes of workplace violence, along with presenting best practices to prevent it.

Take This Job and Shove It!

stressed man at work job dissatisfaction workplace violence

Job dissatisfaction is nothing new – in fact, only 51% of people are satisfied with their jobs these days, and that’s an upswing.

It’s no surprise that anti-work sentiment creeps its way into movies, TV shows, books and other outlets within pop culture.

Unfortunately, some people find less benign ways to release their pent-up frustration with the workplace.

The term “going postal” is derived from a series of shootings in the 1980s that culminated in the 1986 Edmond post office shooting. Mail carrier, Patrick Sherrill, was unhappy about his working conditions and had just been reprimanded by management.

Sherrill returned the next morning on a shooting spree that killed 15 people (including Sherril himself) and injured six. It caused a media frenzy that led to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller gathering experts from around the country to assess the situation in 2004.

The FBI’s committee analyzed over 1.7 million violent crimes reported in the workplace between 1993 and 1999 to determine the breakdown. As sensationalized as the media coverage gets, mass killings only account for %0.1 of all violence.

Simple assault accounts for 75.2%, and aggravated assault accounts for 18.6%. Workplace violence falls into four categories, according to the report:

  • Type 1: Violence with no connection to the workplace. It’s committed by criminals entering to commit robbery or another crime.
  • Type 2: Violence directed at employees by customers, clients, inmates, students, patients, and others being provided services.
  • Type 3: Violence against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee.
  • Type 4: Violence committed by an abusive spouse or domestic partner who doesn’t work there, but has a personal relationship with an employee.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, workplace violence accounts for 24% of nonfatal violence against employed adults. The rate of incidents decreased by 75% from 1993 to 2009, and the government has not released statistics to show how that rate changed in the past decade.

Clinical psychologists and other researchers believe proactive measures can and should be taken to address workplace violence.

actor behavior work shooting

Defending Against the Disgruntled

Lynn Falkin McClure, PhD, is the author of Risky Business: Managing Employee Violence in the Workplace. She identifies five behaviors that are found in the psyche of every workplace shooter:

1. Actor Behavior

Rather than attempting to resolve problems that cause anger, these people act it out. When disgruntled postal worker Thomas McIlvane was fired from his job in November 1991, he returned several weeks later with a sawed-off .22-caliber rifle, killing three workers and injuring six before killing himself.

From the 911 calls to the post-incident interviews, nobody was surprised – McIlvane was known for having a short fuse.

2. Me-First Behavior

Employees who put their own benefit over the good of the company or co-workers are dangerous too. This type of criminal behavior sometimes sounds like something from a Hollywood screenplay.

Consider ex-American Financial Group employee Aaron Hand, who tried hiring hitmen to silence an informant while sitting in jail for $100 million in mortgage fraud.

Sometimes it’s just petty theft. Omar Sheriff Thornton had been recorded stealing beer and kegs from his employer, Hartford Distributors. While being escorted out of the building after signing his resignation, Thornton drew a pistol from his lunchbox and opened fire, killing eight and injuring two before killing himself.

3. Mixed-Messenger Behavior

Some people send mixed messages as a lifestyle. A positive self-image is contradicted by negative, violent, and otherwise repulsive actions.

Ted Bundy is one of the country’s most infamous serial killers because he personifies mixed-messenger behavior. He attended law school, was involved in politics, and even received a letter of recommendation from the governor of Washington while simultaneously committing anywhere from 30 to 100 murders.

stubborn angry worker4. Wooden-Stick Behavior

Inflexible and rigid people exhibit wooden-stick behavior.

In 2012, Andrew John Engeldinger pulled a gun out in his boss’s office at Accent Signage Systems, killing six people and injuring two before killing himself. He was known by friends, family, and coworkers as a stubborn man who resisted treatment for mental illness.

Douglas Williams was cold and methodical during his deadly shooting rampage at Lockheed Martin in 2003. He shot 14 coworkers, specifically targeting and killing six. It was obvious he had been planning this for some time.

5. Escape-Artist Behavior

Escape artists are unable to cope with reality. Instead, they create a fantasy world of escapism, either through substance abuse or lies.

When Michael “Mucko” McDermott was found by police, after shooting and killing seven coworkers at Edgewater Technology in 2000, he was sitting calmly. He told police he didn’t speak German and told the court he traveled back in time to kill Hitler and six Nazis.

Best Practices in Self-Defense

People displaying extreme versions of these behaviors may be at higher risk of committing workplace violence. Three best practices can identify and diagnose problems before they occur.

1. Conduct Background Checks

Thorough background checks are the first defense against employing potentially violent individuals. Someone with a history of violence may use false information, as they certainly wouldn’t want to be discovered.

Be sure not to skip these vital pre-employment background checks to identify potentially dangerous employees. Check criminal records, sex offender registries, employment verification, and any government, personal, and professional resources.

Proper due diligence can reduce the likelihood of hiring criminals who are more likely to commit violent crimes.

implement clear reporting of workplace violence2. Implement Clear Reporting

Organizations need protocols in place to handle reports of potential violence, criminal activity, or other problems. Employees that don’t have proper internal reporting channels won’t feel confident enough to report criminal activity.

Larger organizations typically have centralized HR, and a dedicated, anonymous reporting hotline goes a long way in encouraging employee reports of suspicious behavior.

Many of the instances above were foreshadowed, but nothing was done. A clear reporting structure gives employees a safe place to unload their concerns without fear of retribution.

3. Establish a Response Plan

Violence response should be a part of any company’s enterprise risk management (ERM) plan. The El Paso Walmart where a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 on August 3, 2019, didn’t reopen until mid-November. Loss of life aside, that’s a lot of lost revenue.

An emergency response plan should include protocols to mitigate damage in the immediate response to an incident. Business-critical operations can be rerouted to other facilities, if available, and safety procedures can be enacted to get employees somewhere safe.

In many of the instances above, the active shooter stalked the building and then terrorized employees for up to 10 minutes before first responders arrived at the scene.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends exercising one of three options when faced with an active shooter: Run, hide, or fight.

Which option is chosen depends on the availability of an evacuation point, a safe hiding place, or the lack of any other option. Staff needs extensive training on a proper action plan for it to be effective.

Training for the Moment

Despite its proliferation, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t maintain specific guidelines or regulations on workplace violence. It does, however, provide extensive training resources.

Aside from identifying the general types of violence and precursory behaviors, a comprehensive training plan should be in place to enforce workplace violence policies, including the following:

zero tolerance policy workplace violence1. Zero-Tolerance Policy

The workplace should have a zero-tolerance policy in place to prevent workplace violence. A system of accountability needs to be in place so that everyone from the c-suite to entry-level understands that no form of violence will be tolerated.

Management needs to always show an equal commitment to the safety of employees’ emotional, mental, and physical safety. Employees that feel safe are less likely to commit crimes, making it a simple, all-inclusive solution.

Make it clear that employees who threaten, intimidate, or initiate violence are subject to immediate termination and would be reported to law enforcement.

2. Realistic Security Assessment

Most of the workplaces above were aware of security vulnerabilities on-site but did nothing to fix it. BeSafe Technologies has dedicated staff that can perform on-site visual threat assessments of any business building or site.

Understanding threats and security empower the business to patch any vulnerabilities, and today’s advanced technology makes that easier than ever.

Data from strategically placed sensors, CCTV, and alarm systems builds an interactive digital floorplan of the business. When emergency services arrive, this platform helps them navigate the situation safely and more efficiently.

workplace violence prevention conduct safety drills3. Conduct Safety Drills

Working in partnership with local emergency services can make a big difference in their response time. Commercial buildings are large and difficult to navigate, especially for someone who doesn’t come into work every day.

Law enforcement relies on business leadership to guide them through a building during an emergency. Partnering with first responders on proactive drills familiarizes everyone with the procedure. When the real thing happens, the transition is much easier to handle.

Partnering with law enforcement and performing drills reasonably ensures the safety of employees before the arrival of responders. It also reduces the time it takes for first responders to navigate the building during an emergency.

4. Post Safety Materials

Buildings should have safety materials posted in all employee common areas, including break rooms and back offices. These also include general safety procedures, emergency exit routes, and clearly labeled safety equipment.

A digital platform brings safety to a new level. In the event of an active shooter, building lights can be used to mark dangerous or safe areas. Intercoms and speakers can be used to track the perpetrator and innocents to coordinate a group response.

It may seem redundant, but repeating the same information from drills, on paper, and digitally ensures nothing fails when lives are on the line.

Courage Under Fire

On April 3, 2018, a 38-year-old woman named Nasim Najafi Aghdam walked into YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California. Carrying a Smith & Wesson 9 mm semi-automatic pistol, she opened fire, wounding three employees before killing herself.

Being a social media company, multiple employees posted live updates on Twitter and Snapchat during the incident. Aghdam was reportedly upset about recent policy changes that demonetized most of her published content.

Responding to such an incident in the moment isn’t easy, but there are three steps to take once you’ve chosen your action plan from the DHS (run, hide, or fight).

1. Call 911

call 911 emergency

The sooner emergency services are involved, the sooner they can defuse the situation. If escalating violence occurs in the workplace, police or military response is often the only thing that will stop it.

Everyone has a plan until they’re hit, and then all bets are off. Notifying the police of any serious violent crimes protects everyone physically and legally.

Employees should immediately call 911 during a life-threatening emergency. No workplace shooter has ever escaped police custody, so this is the best defense.

2. Notify Staff

Contact trees should be set up so that employees, both on the premises and off-site, can be notified of an emergency. An organized contact list helps management monitor 911 calls, assess the threat, and give employees vital information on the location of the danger.

The last thing a business needs is more employees unwittingly heading toward the danger.

Orchestrating the safety of all employees is the top priority in an active shooter event. This can be done with modern technology. For instance, BeSafe centralizes all notifications so emergency services can work in cooperation with the business to resolve the issues as quickly and painlessly as possible.

3. Isolate the Threat

Once aware of a threat, businesses should notify the surrounding community and take action

run to safety work shooting

to isolate the threat. Some of these shooting rampages spill out into other buildings and onto the streets. This puts even more people in danger.

If the perpetrator is already in the building, the best-case scenario is to get everyone else out and lock them in. This minimizes the impact of the damage.

In the worst-case scenario, self-defense is always an option. There are cases where a potential shooter was killed before completing their mission.

One recent incredible incident occurred with Oregon coach Keanon Lowe. He became a national hero after a video of him hugging a student holding a shotgun on October 20, 2019, went viral.

There are instances of heroism that arise from these deadly occurrences.

Be Safe, Be Prepared

While human heroism can help curb violence in the workplace, it puts innocent people in danger.  Instead, modern technology may prevent violent incidents without risking lives. It can enhance our ability to monitor in real-time, communicate effectively, and launch security counter-measures.

In an ideal world, everyone could work together in peace. The reality, however, has proven to be much different.

Government agencies from the municipal to the federal level are researching the causes and effects of this senseless violence. Disgruntled workers, scorned lovers, and discarded exes are among the riskiest profiles of workplace violence.

A proactive approach to workplace security is necessary. Modern technology, combined with safety-conscious employees and a zero-tolerance policy toward violence, can help to reduce workplace violence.

Numbers are on a downward trend, but there are still too many people injured or killed on the job. It’s time to bring that number down to zero.

Contact BeSafe Technologies to schedule an on-site visual risk assessment of your facility today. It’s time to put an end to workplace violence.

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