Violence in workplaces across the country is a growing problem, with shootings too often reported at manufacturing plants, shopping centers, schools, night clubs, churches and many other places.
On Feb. 15, Gary Martin showed up at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, Ill., where he had worked for 15 years, carrying a concealed Smith & Wesson firearm. Authorities speculate he anticipated, correctly, that he was going to be fired.
Ninety minutes later, five of his coworkers were dead and five police officers were wounded. Martin himself was dead, shot by police. Victims included a plant manager, the human resources manager and an intern, who had just started working at the valve manufacturing company. Most of the victims were in a meeting with Martin when they were killed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 458 workplace homicides in the United States in 2017, the last year for which statistics are available. Approximately 77 percent of those homicides involved a firearm. FBI data indicates that active shooter fatalities spiked in 2017 to 729, three times the nation’s previous high of 214 deaths in 2016.
Related Content: “Communicating in Crisis: The Role of the EHS Practitioner,” by Scott Gaddis, vice president of health and safety at Intelex Technologies.
The reality is that no industry or location is without risk in today’s environment. Churches, schools, workplaces, malls, movie theaters: All have been the site of shootings or violence.
“At the present time, there exists a greater chance that an American will be killed at work than in combat,” said Kathleen M. Bonczyk, Esq., executive director of the Workplace Violence Prevention Institute.
The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), the world’s oldest professional safety organization, has taken a step to help curb the risk of workplace incidents involving active shooters and armed assailants. ASSP has published a technical report – registered with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) – that can help guide companies to safer environments and a coordinated response should a hostile event occur.
The consensus-based document, “How to Develop and Implement an Active Shooter/Armed Assailant Plan,” contains recommendations from safety experts on how a business in any industry can better protect itself in advance of such an incident. The ASSP technical report is the collaborative work of more than 30 professionals experienced in law enforcement, industrial security and corporate safety compliance, aiming to drive a higher level of preparedness against workplace violence.
“In the safety profession, we manage risk for our organizations, so having the right tools is critical,” said Brian Hammer, chair of ASSP’s technical report committee who spent 20 years in law enforcement. “While no one can completely prepare for horrific acts of violence, smart workplace strategies can help mitigate threats and better protect workers everywhere. There can be deadly consequences to being unprepared.”
Hammer also noted that firearms are not the only threat in the workplace, and every workplace potentially has unique threats. For example, is the business open to the public? If it is, is there a group of employees who handle complaints from the public? Is there the likelihood that employees (social workers, nurses and doctors, etc.) will interact with members of the public who have mental health issues? How does the company handle employee dismissals? Is counseling available for employees who have indicated they are under stress or who have acted out in the workplace already?
A company’s safety preparedness hinges on a comprehensive assessment of where threats and vulnerabilities exist. Once a safety plan is developed, all staff must be trained. Exercises such as tabletop drills, tactical drills and full-scale practice sessions help to verify and further improve the implemented controls. Security cameras and badge entry systems also can help protect a facility and account for all employees during an emergency.
“At each location, it is key for employees to be trained and when planning for acts of workplace violence, you must take your facility and its design into consideration,” said Hammer. “Are there areas where employees can hunker down and lock themselves in? Are there exits employees can use to get out of the facility?
“Ask yourself: ‘What can I do to reduce risk?’ It may cost money for things like perimeter fencing, additional lights, video cameras, an armed security guard who buzzes visitors in. It should involve (annual refresher) training for all employees and all new employees should be trained on the emergency response plan when they begin working at the company. HR policies should include procedures to report coworkers who exhibit threatening behavior or say anything suspicious,” he added.
The ASSP report serves as a blueprint to help employers to identify threats and vulnerabilities so they can implement measures that protect the safety and health of their employees. Steps employers should take to address workplace violence include:
- Assess risk
- Develop a comprehensive prevention plan
- Train and communicate with your employees
- Respond to an incident
- Develop post-incident procedures
- Conduct ongoing audits of the plan.
“While the technical report can help any business create a safer climate, it’s especially beneficial to companies that don’t have the expertise to prepare for an armed assailant and are looking for a blueprint to assist them,” Hammer said. “The report is just what a safety manager needs to thoroughly assess risks and implement controls.”
According to the technical report, best safety practices include:
- Developing a relationship with local police officers and firefighters, asking for assistance where necessary. Invite first responders for facility tours so they learn the building’s layout and can offer tips on preventing intruders and improving emergency response.
- While random terrorist attacks can grab headlines, company leaders should know that acts of violence at their facilities would most likely be carried out by a disgruntled or terminated employee, a spouse of an employee or a dissatisfied customer. Focusing on these possibilities helps safety managers better prepare their organizations. Employees must be trained to recognize potential threats and early warning signs and know how to report them.
- Once an armed assailant no longer poses a threat, the event still may not be over for the company. The technical report also recommends a business continuity plan because the worksite could be closed for a period of time.
“It takes some work to be highly prepared for dangerous incidents, but the results are invaluable,” Hammer said. “You never know exactly what will happen, so practicing contingencies is key. We execute like we practice.”
Visit the ASSP website to view videos and learn more about the ASSP technical report. Click here to download the infographic.
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