Article originally published in the spring 2016 issue of The Leader. 

By: Jack Jackson, SafeStart

 “Man down! Man down!” comes over your site’s intercom system. Your first thought is someone must have been injured, perhaps due to equipment malfunction, someone bypassing a safety device, or maybe it was because of a failure to wear the appropriate PPE. Instead, the last thing you ever expected to happen has occurred—there has been an act of violence in your facility.

In today’s society, workplace threats can happen anywhere and at any time. Often, the companies that experience workplace violence never saw it coming and had no plans in place to reduce the effects of a security breach. Some two million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in two-thirds of workplace homicides, the assailant has no known personal relationship with the victim. While assailants can be contractors, members of the public, clients, or suppliers, our first thoughts often shift to current and former employees, their friends and even their families when an incident of violence occurs in the workplace.

Reports of domestic violence are on the rise and at times these situations spill over into the workplace when an abusive partner attacks an employee on the job. Domestic violence is usually displayed in a pattern of intimidating behavior used to gain power and control over a current or former spouse, family member, intimate partner or person with whom the perpetrator shares a child in common. Attacks in these situations include physical or sexual violence, emotional and psychological intimidation, verbal abuse, stalking, harassment and physical intimidation or injury. 

Although men can be the victims of domestic violence, the most frequent victims are female. According to a study done by Employers Against Domestic Violence (EADV), 74 percent of employed battered women are harassed by their partner while at work. This caused 56 percent of battered women to be late for work at least five times a month, 28 percent to leave early at least five days a month, and 54 percent to miss at least three full days of work a month. Given these statistics, along with the potential for further violence, it is imperative that employers take precautions to safeguard the workplace from such a threat.

In 2003, I lived in Jefferson City, MO. I never would have thought that workplace violence with an incredibly tragic ending could happen there. But on a warm July night, an employee at a manufacturing facility shot and killed three co-workers and wounded four others, then drove downtown and killed himself during an exchange of gunfire with a police officer near police headquarters. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), of the 4,679 fatal workplace injuries that occurred in the United States in 2014, 403 were workplace homicides.

Ready for some good news? I have done consulting work for numerous companies around the world over the past decade, and while I have found there are a lot of unhappy employees, most aren't going to resort to violence. They certainly don’t look like they would shoot up the place! At least, that’s how it appears on the outside. But we never know what’s going on in a person’s head or to what lengths—even irrational ones—they will go to in a given situation. An employer’s best course of action is to hope for the best but prepare for the worse.

Workplace violence and other related threats such as sabotage can have a direct impact on an organization's staff, affecting morale, productivity, and even employee/customer retention. It can also damage an organization's reputation and even its future growth.

An organization’s security and safety procedures should prepare for a wide range of incidents including threats, domestic violence and stalking. These policies and procedures should also address crimes occurring on business property, including provisions covering contractors, customers and other non-employees. The best protection employers can offer is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence against or by their employees. The employer should establish a workplace violence prevention program or incorporate the information into an existing accident prevention program, employee handbook or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to ensure that all employees know the policy and understand that all instances of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly.

Employers need to be proactive in preparing their staff to prevent and respond to these situations when they occur. Supervisors and managers should be trained to spot the signs of possible employee-against-employee confrontations as well. When these situations are first noticed they should be addressed immediately so as not to create a hostile work environment. There are three main areas workplace violence prevention and security concerns should focus.

First, a crime prevention assessment should be performed. This assessment should include preventative measures that will discourage acts of violence. The use of closed circuit cameras is often useful in deterring criminals. Measures should also be taken to secure access to the property. ID badges are a great method to control entry. Many companies, both large and small, are now issuing employee IDs capable of doing much more than simply identifying the cardholder as an employee. These IDs can be integrated with access control entry into common buildings and restricted areas. When necessary, access cards can be activated or disabled when workers are hired, on leave, face disciplinary suspensions or fired.

Secondly, it is important to train employees how to respond in the event of workplace violence. The role your employees play in reacting to an incident is crucial in avoiding further causalities, including potentially becoming victims themselves. The actions of the heroes we see on TV are not based in reality. Train all team members in de-escalation techniques and encourage respectful communication. Knowing how to act and how to respond could be the difference between life and death. It is important that employers talk about the potential for violent acts regardless of where they live in this country.

Lastly, it is necessary to plan your response in the aftermath of a violent incident. Police and other emergency response personnel will manage all emergency procedures. Police will deal with criminal activity. Firefighters will be there if there is a threat of fire or explosion. However, it remains the employer’s responsibility to work with employees to try to normalize the workplace as soon as possible following an incident. I'm sorry that was a last minute addition and it may not read as clear as I was thinking. It should read. "Measures should be taken by the company to assign an individual to address the media following an incident. Comments given to the media by an untrained employee can have devastating effects on the company’s and law enforcement’s investigations. The aftermath of a violent situation can be traumatic. The wave of uncertainty, panic and disbelief will pass and in its place will be the task of normalizing the workplace.

Although the shooting in 2003 in Jefferson City, MO, did not take place in the facility where I worked, we still took measures to secure the confidence of our employees, contractors, and customers and to reassure them that they were in a safe place.

Bio:

William “Jack” Jackson is the president as well as an independent safety consultant with Zion Safety Consulting. Jack is chiefly responsible for organizational strategies, developmental programs, and the vision behind Zion Safety Consulting Inc. Jack was formerly employed for 19 years with Johnson Controls Inc. and held several positions with the company. He began his career in the production and operations portion of the business but later became involved with the safety department where he helped the local facility in Jefferson City, MO attain a world class safety record. Jack relocated to San Antonio, TX and joined Avanzar Interior Technologies in 2005 while the site was still under construction. His responsibilities included overseeing the construction safety phase of the project. Once construction completed he continued on to develop the safety system for the facility as well as the safety program manual for the facility. He set the tone early on for the direction of the safety culture within Avanzar. He developed a work conditioning program to prepare team members to become industrial athletes. Jack is also the author of “The “I” in Team…The Star Within,” a liberating interactive presentation designed to make participants look inside themselves through a five point process. It teaches that the growth of the team lays first within the individual stars on the team and that each one must shine.