By Suzanne Loughlin, recordonline.com
Last week, a shooting rampage at a beer distributor in Connecticut left nine dead and others wounded. It was the nation’s deadliest workplace violence since 13 people were fatally shot at Fort Hood, Texas, in November.
Just last month, in a scene police described as “complete chaos,” an Albuquerque, N.M., man returned to his former workplace with a semiautomatic handgun and shot six employees. Two were killed and four wounded before the attacker took his own life.
Who were the targets of the assaults? In Connecticut, fellow employees, including a union president and a vice president; at Fort Hood, fellow soldiers and officers; and in New Mexico, the attacker’s estranged girlfriend and mother of his two children.
What was the motivation for each shooting? It varies, but there are common themes: employee ridicule and harassment; disciplinary actions taken by employers; domestic disputes in the home that spill over into the workplace; and economic and family stress.
Events like these can happen in any workplace, as all employers, at some point, have troubled or disgruntled employees, ex-employees, customers or other stakeholders. These incidents demonstrate that threats to workplace safety extend to employees, supervisors, co-workers, families and random individuals in proximity to the perpetrator.
Still, no one thinks it will happen at their company or organization.
Most workplace violence incidents don’t come out of the blue.
There are typically warning signals along the way before someone commits an act of violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration identifies workplace violence as a known hazard. It is the leading cause of death in the workplace for women and the second-leading cause for men. Organizations are required to maintain a safe workplace and have a plan, yet 70 percent do not.
According to the Department of Labor and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health historical data, during the six to 18 weeks following an act of workplace violence, employers reported up to a 50 percent loss in productivity and a 20 percent to 40 percent turnover rate. Should litigation follow, and it usually does, the average out-of-court settlement for “negligence” is approximately $500,000, and the average jury award is around $3 million.
So what measures can employers take to mitigate the risk? First and foremost, build a culture of preparedness in your organization.
Start by predicting your potential exposures. Implement plans to mitigate them.
Train your staff to perform when the times comes.
- Begin with the hiring process. Thorough background checks must be conducted and documents and facts must be verified. Train employees to identify at-risk co-workers and encourage them to report circumstances that cause concern. Establish an incident response team.
- If an employee is worried about someone, he or she should report that person to management, security and front-desk personnel. Their name, a photo and type of vehicle they drive should be provided. An updated background check might be in order.
- When an individual is identified as being a potential risk, the individual should be given a risk assessment by a competent, qualified professional.
- Implement a comprehensive written “no threats, no violence” policy that is clearly communicated to all employees and enforced.
- When employees report a concern, investigate immediately and take action.
- Employees must be trained to evacuate the premises as quickly as possible if an incident occurs. If the front door is blocked by an intruder, be aware of the nearest alternate exit. Designate safe rooms if evacuation isn’t possible.
- Conduct armed intruder drills, scheduling them, if possible, on the same day as fire drills.
- Exterior doors and lobby doors, if they exist, should be locked during the workday.
- At times, physical security in the workplace might be necessary. For example, if you are planning a disciplinary response or a reduction in work force, you should anticipate that issues might arise.
The return on investment for planning for workplace violence is high. It is the only way to protect your intellectual capital — your people.
If you had to respond now, are you ready?