Workplace Violence Part III: Preparation is Key

Workplace Violence

In this last and final article of the Workplace Violence series, we’ll be discussing how to prepare for an emergency situation; and to make sure that your company doesn’t become another statistic. It’s interesting that OSHA has no specific standards for workplace violence. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1)), states that employers are required to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.” The legal interpretation of this clause means that when there is an identified threat and there is a feasible method to reduce or eliminate the hazard, an employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.

Preparation and Planning is Key to Prevent Workplace Violence

Companies should create a comprehensive plan for any type of emergency situation. An Emergency Management plan is the foundation for dealing with emergency situations from natural disasters to workplace violence. Plans should be audited on an annual basis, as each company and scenario may have a different set of needs and steps. Preparation is key and as with any emergency, planning for an incident is the primary requirement for the program.

Let me ask – are you aware if your company has an emergency plan? If so, are employees trained on an annual basis and could they execute the plan if a situation occurred? If not, this is a perfect place to start, as awareness is a key component of being prepared for an emergency situation.

In the last article, we discussed the broader definition of workplace violence and the need to have policies and procedures in place for emergency situations. The Human Resources department will most likely want to have a say in the policies regarding the protection of employees from the threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior. These policies should be communicated and enforced when a situation arises.

Going back to the incident management plan, when a situation occurs, and when employees are at risk for physical harm or attack, a company needs to be able to quickly implement a plan that can alert security personnel and/or emergency services. The plan should have up-to-date contact information for family members of the employees, especially when a medical notification is needed. The incident management plan may also need to know when the business continuity plan needs to be started. In an emergency, especially where a loss of life occurs; the facility will be shut down and operations will need to occur elsewhere.

If you are unprepared for a violent event, the situation could be over before emergency personnel are even on the scene. In one statistic that I found, in nearly half of all active shooter incidents, police were unable to respond in under 10 minutes. The statistics show that the average active shooter attack lasts 3-5 minutes.

Steps to take in reducing workplace violence

Performing an assessment of the worksite is the first step in prevention and your local police department is the first place to contact.

The assessment will consider the following areas:

  • Entrance ways, camera’s, exits
  • Critical Detection Points (CDPs) – CDP’s are areas where a threat could be detected before the threat enters the building. These are the places where external cameras should be placed
  • Procedures to enter the facility, including sign-in, badge readers, parking areas and access points
  • The surrounding community and known threats
  • Visibility of the building – blinds, shades, doors, bushes and trees
  • The policy for the entering of visitors, vendors, clients, etc.
  • How to deal with signals that a potentially violent person’s problems are getting worse.
  • Reporting concerns in confidence through proper channels.
  • Employee termination procedures or when difficult conversations need to occur
  • The policy to change security codes and door locks
  • The crime statistics in the area
  • Other businesses, including prisons, hospitals, half-way houses, etc. in the area that leave your business vulnerable
  • The proximity of these businesses to yours
  • The monitoring and use of external and internal cameras
  • How communications should occur if a situation should arise
  • Escape plans, including alternate plans, if the primary escape routes are blocked. Fire routes may not be the same as attacker routes.
  • If forced to flee from a business, the selection of a designated place for employees to meet, as a count of employees is needed to understand who may still be in the building

In most workplaces; where risk factors can be identified, the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. One of the best protections employers can offer their workers is to establish a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence. This policy should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may have contact with company personnel.

In planning a prevention program for workplace violence, in addition to physical security, you’ll also need to consider HR practices in pre-employment screening, employee termination practices, employee assistance programs, out placement and a host of other options.

It’s important for employees to know the policies that have been created and to understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated promptly. For high risk industries, OSHA encourages employers to develop additional methods as necessary to protect employees.

Prepare and Hold Active Shooter Drills

Each time that I mention to companies to hold active shooter drills, I am met with a gasp, but just like a fire drill, how else will your company prepare for this type of unthinkable event?

  • The staff should be educated on suspicious behavior and/or agitated behavior by employees, visitors, etc.
  • Have a communication plan to notify authorities and employees in the event of an armed intruder situation.
  • Designate evacuation points and educate staff on the “Avoid, Deny, Defend” model for handling an active shooter event.
    • Avoid is to hide
    • Deny is to take cover or concealment
    • Defend is to get seriously aggressive with the attacker to take them down (defending should have its own plan with what to use and how to strike and still managing to get away).
  • Know your escalation paths and pre-configure groups of key team members who would be notified if a situation unfolded and how to quickly disseminate information.
  • Have Up-to-date Contact Info with next of kin information.

Lite Up the Exterior

An attacker will often use dark or poorly lit areas to hide and wait for an opportunity to attack. Therefore, it is important to ensure that the exterior of the building is well lit, and streetlights may not offer adequate lighting.

Depending on the situation, employees that need to enter or leave a building during times when it is dark, and employees should have a well-lit route from the parking area to the building. Employees should be encouraged to walk together or consider hiring security guards to watch these areas.

Make security visible to employees and visitors

The more visible any security measure is to internal and external people, the better the prevention. As we learned in an earlier article, a lone wolf soldier typically takes one week to plan an attack and understanding where they could be caught on camera and/or stopped via a process works in your favor.

Keep windows clean and clear

Anytime an attacker can see into your building, that means others can too and having clear and clean windows, may discourage someone from targeting your business, and also provides your employees with the ability to see what is happening outside of the building. The appearance of a well-maintained facility could persuade an attacker to find another target.

Encourage employees to report vulnerabilities

Encourage employees to report safety concerns, regarding the surrounding area, facility or concerning behaviors of employees.

  • Safety concerns that they may have, no matter the situation
  • Suggestions for improvements
  • Unsecured areas, equipment, valuables, etc.
  • Concerns of domestic issues with themselves or another employee
  • Any suspicious behavior, workplace bullying or significant personality changes with internal or external people

Train employees to recognize potential danger

Workplace violence can be in many forms and proper procedures should be available for handling all kinds of situations. Other scenarios to be aware of include suspicious packages, upset customers and unauthorized personnel in a secure work area.

Reporting an Incident:

Immediately contact your local police department to report a violent incident. If you need immediate assistance or medical attention, dial 9-1-1. Provide authorities with as many details as possible regarding the incident. Include information such as time and date of the incident, the location where it occurred, and names and descriptions of suspects and witnesses. Report the incident to your superior or your employer’s human resource department. The incident should be logged, and a detailed report should be taken.

Training & Other Resources

The Internet is full of useful information and links on Workplace Violence. The Department of Labor/OSHA, contains links to a variety of training and reference materials, including presentations, publications, and handouts. In a violent situation, preparation is a key component to being prepared for the unthinkable. Preparation is also key in protecting employees and in preventing loss of life. While nothing is a guarantee in a workplace violence situation, it is a best practice to encourage employees to pay attention to their surroundings and to be prepared for any type of situation. Thank you for reading this series on workplace violence. For any questions, feel free to reach out at the below email address.

@2019 All Rights Reserved

Sue Bergamo is the CIO & CISO at Episerver, a global digital commerce company. She can be reached at

*The content within this article are the sole opinions of the author.

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