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Addressing The Threat of Workplace Violence

As the national conversation regarding violence in the workplace suggests a heightened awareness stemming from increased media coverage, recent studies show there may be statistical evidence supporting this perceived frequency. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about five percent of all businesses experience an instance of workplace violence each year. For larger organizations with over 1,000 employees, this rate is increased tenfold to 50 percent. A 2014 report from the FBI found active shooter incidents in the U.S. now occur on an average of once a month. Of these incidents, almost half (45.6 percent) occurred at a business while nearly a quarter (24.4 percent) occurred at K-12 schools and institutions of higher learning. Although active threats and the environments where they take place can vary from incident to incident, the common threads found throughout can be woven together to create the fabric of an effective and successful safety program. Developing a plan of how to respond to an active threat, however, is not enough. Just as employees cannot master new skills relating to their job role without practice, they cannot be expected to perform flawlessly during an emergency unless they have experience dealing with these particular types of stressful situations. More often than not, active threat training is the elephant in the room. Everyone has seen or heard of incidents, but are reluctant to take the steps toward mitigation. The reasons may vary from believing it will make employees more fearful than empowered to worrying the training might not be “right” for the team. However, looking the other way is not a solution to any problem, much less one with harmful consequences. The aforementioned statistics illustrate an increasing probability of an active threat incident, making it less an “if” and more a “when”. Unfortunately, violence doesn’t discriminate on where it can take place, so the entire enterprise, be it headquarters, warehouse, or storefront, should be involved in preventative measures. Breaking through the barrier of apprehension begins with a holistic approach: one team, one goal. Leadership should evaluate the type of training fitting for their organization’s culture, articulate the vital importance of such training to employees, and clearly explain how the training will be implemented. Additionally, engaging in regularly scheduled workplace safety drills can at first seem intimidating. Members of the organization may consider the suggestion a type of fear mongering. But, the reality is practice makes perfect and in an active threat environment it can save lives. Armed with this knowledge, leaders can lay out a response plan and develop methods for calmly introducing the need to rehearse said plan to employees, just like fire drills, severe weather drills, and other emergency procedures. Violence is seldom a cookie cutter affair and as such a “one size fits all” response is likely an ineffective solution. Conversely, having too many threat-specific responses can be confusing, if not outright dangerous. While different threats do warrant varying responses, a series of “stovepipe” procedures can cripple a person with tunnel vision during a high-stress scenario.  All active threat response plans should be built upon the same principles so even if the minute details are lost in the heat of the moment, team members can still make informed decisions to ensure the safety of themselves and others. Streamlining processes encourage a quick implementation and retention of information.  Knowledge increases confidence, confidence increases decisiveness, and it is decisive action in a critical incident that saves lives. Every active threat situation will unfold differently, especially since external factors such as the weather, type of environment, and other variables can present unpredictable outcomes. By being proactive over what that can be controlled, such as implementing sound training strategies, companies can be prepared for and respond to an active threat to the best of its ability. Through the empowerment of its most valuable assets, its people, companies can mitigate risks, protect the safety of its employees, customers, and community.