Workplace Violence: Today's Reality
Prepare your staff and laboratory to limit tragic incidents
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR
Almost daily, we hear about another incident at a school, shopping center, or business where a violent event has occurred. Unfortunately, the number of workplace violence incidences is on the rise. The FBI reported that out of 160 active shooters between 2000 and 2013, 45.6% were in commerce-related locations (businesses and shopping areas). These acts are committed by a variety of people—co-workers, customers, terminated employees, family members, and complete strangers. Just as concerning is the fact that most businesses are not prepared to handle such an event. Nothing can totally predict a violent incident or stop it from happening, but taking action to be prepared and aware can significantly reduce the tragic consequences. This article discusses a number of ways that business owners can proactively address this risk.
Ideally, every business should:
• Conduct an honest internal review
• Develop a plan with a professional
• Develop and/or review policies and procedures for such events
• Conduct a physical security and access control audit; develop a schematic/layout of the entire building, including the surrounding area and roadways
• Develop an accountability system
• Establish regular drills and policy reviews
• Identify emergency responders; understand who will be responding, how they will respond, how they will act, and how you should act
• Understand the true impact to your company
There are two common reactions: "It would never happen here," or "I can't afford to implement this kind of program." First, you're right that the likelihood of an actual event occurring is small. However, these incidents are increasing, and where they are happening is unpredictable. Second, the plan that you implement can be customized to the size and budget of your organization. There are many things such as basic access control and workforce training that can be done at minimal cost. Also, consider the devastating costs if such an event did occur. The impact to your laboratory would be devastating.
Criminals are less likely to commit crimes in places that are difficult to access. Spend some time and analyze the physical security and access control at your organization. It is more than just an alarm pad to deactivate and activate each day.
• Proper physical security/access control is vital to the continuity and existence of a business.
• Have a professional security consultant—not an alarm company—perform a complete system audit.
• Review access control policy and develop a strong or zero-tolerance policy.
• Review the role of access control in the termination process.
In addition to physical security, there are also several other things that you can do to reduce the risk of violence by employees. First, implement good screening and hiring practices. Train supervisors to identify potential warning signs and to intervene at the first sign of an issue. Implementing an Employee Assistant Program (EAP) can also help workers balance work and personal life to avoid overload.
What you can do today to help ensure your organization is prepared for any type of violent event? According to a 2017 Workplace Violence Prevention Toolkit published by Business and Legal Resources, there are five key components of a workplace violence plan:
• Zero-tolerance policy. Create a thorough, written policy indicating that no type of violent behavior, including intimidation, threats, or acts, will be tolerated.
• Response procedures. Employees need to know how to respond to a perceived or actual threat of violence. Who should employees report their concerns to? Who will conduct an investigation? How will the investigation be handled? Who will assess and address the perceived risk?
• Workplace walkthrough. Locate and identify potential hot spots for violent incidents—reception areas, warehouse entries, and other access points. Train these "frontline" personnel on the proper response if a disgruntled individual walks through the door.
• Training and education. Once policies and procedures have been written, they must be communicated to managers, supervisors, and employees. Conduct training sessions and educate your workforce on how to recognize and respond to violent situations.
• Post-incident response. Employers need to develop procedures for addressing the turmoil and trauma that violence in the workplace can leave behind. Trauma counseling, EAPs, and other treatment plans are essential to an effective plan.
Again, nothing can totally predict or stop an incident from happening, but being prepared and aware can significantly reduce the tragic consequences. How prepared is your laboratory?
About the Author
Jennifer Wheatley, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, is the VP of HR Consulting and Outsourcing with HR Affiliates.