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Predicting workplace violence by observing your surroundings

Tamara Parris

In one of our member discussions earlier this year, member Mark Mann shared insights and recommendations on how to predict incidents of workplace violence. I have noticed the topic has been increasingly covered in recent news and thought it timely to revisit the group conversation from another perspective. Reviewing case studies is useful to learn the value of training staff to observe cues in their surroundings to predict potential incidents of violence.

During our June discussion Mark recommended, as a training exercise with staff, the idea of having short scenarios where employees can observe and find cues in their environment that are a deviation from the "norm". He suggested creating a training challenge for employees to find the various cues in the workplace, allowing them to collect the various pieces of the puzzle and share them back. This exercise is meant to help encourage employees to observe what they are seeing in their everyday environment continually and question if they see something out of the "norm".

The other night I was watching a documentary on the July 20, 2012, mass shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. I called Mark and we started to discuss the event. I wanted to hear his insights, as he was on the scene and has first hand knowledge of the crisis. Our discussion lead to the topic of how critically important it is to safe guard our employees through training opportunities, for both staff and public safety. By providing staff with adequate training we help to increase their knowledge, understanding, skills and confidence to observe cues to help better protect themselves and the public effectively.

The theatre incident is an example of a social gathering place where having the knowledge and training to observe the tell-tail signs of inappropriate actions and out of place behaviour would have helped staff to predict a violent incident was forthcoming, and have prompted them to start protocols to mitigate a potential risk. In the theatre instance we can observe two deviations: when the individual left the theatre through the back door during the trailers, and the propping open of the door. Witnesses shared that they thought what they saw was odd, yet they either dismissed the events as not important or believed he was part of the venue staff. This puts forth the question if broader public education would be valuable to consider.

Reviewing another incident, the Inland Recreation Center in San Bernardino in 2015, an employee and another person shot 14 co-workers and injured 27 others during a staff holiday party. We learned during the documentary the staff did have some training, which enabled them to know enough to take cover quickly. What these witnesses reported was they were still not clear what actions would be the safest to proceed with next. This brings forward the question if the training being provided is deep enough to properly prepare people to effectively handle such situations.

I believe these above examples highlight the need to provide adequate education on how to:
1. Observe for deviations to the norm in their environment
2. Use this information to predict possible incidents of violence or unsafe outcomes
3. Provide them with the adequate knowledge to appropriately act upon their observations
4. Train the individual on how to respond quickly to mitigate the risks 
5. Prepare a brief safety plan in case of an emergency.

Crisis thinking is not second nature, it is a skill that needs to be taught. Furthermore, I believe we are starting to better understand that safety and security should be strengthened as a core value, that it should be an ingrained social mindset and viewed as a collective responsibility. How do we shift people's mindsets from being complacent to being engaged and thinking about mitigating risk?

Mark shared that part of this knowledge should include being able to understand mental fitness and observing if someone is preoccupied. The below chart illustrates various mindsets discussed during the member session, during which Mark shared how to read the chart. For example; being open and fearless is a healthy range for most people to be in. If we notice people are showing signs of being suspicious or edgy, this is when we need to tune in and look for the predictive cues mentioned earlier.

Our member Obinna asked how we defuse aggression once we recognize the signs. Another member shared their work experiences of verbal aggression, which escalated into physical violence. We discussed noticing the increasing aggregation, and then taking the time to neutralize the work environment so you do not become the target. Next we spoke about de-escalating the person's agitation so you can persuade them to remove themselves from the workplace, protecting others.

For more information and insights on the topics mentioned above, watch the recorded member discussion: Click here!

March 12, 2018 @ 07:45 PM EDT Health & Safety

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Tamara Parris's picture
Tamara Parris

@markmann @anthonyrocheford I would be interested in hearing your insights and thoughts on this discussion.

March 15, 2018 @ 02:45 PM EDT
Mark Mann's picture
Mark Mann

Thank you, Tamara. It's a tough topic; another 1 minute, 15 second new story of mass violence, active shooter, and another Candlelight vigil. Our shock and sadness quickly fades after the news. The most painful tragedy is an information crisis; every act of mass violence in North America in the past 18 months was purely predictable and avoidable. Good people had advanced knowledge that would have blocked the opportunity for each of these tragedies. Life-saving information that we possess and fail to share is the common thread in nearly every act of mass violence. Thank you for your leadership and leading the conversation.

March 15, 2018 @ 08:27 PM EDT