SHOTS FIRED! – Three Steps to Preventing Workplace Violence

Every business is unique. But every business owner can take basic steps to avoid violence at the workplace. And an owner who doesn’t take these steps may incur liabilities.

Step One – Train employees how to respond to a Live Shooter Event.

Ask your employees, “If you hear shots being fired, whether at work or anywhere where they don’t belong, what do you do?”

The following three-part plan has been supported by local law enforcement agencies around the country.

First: Run.

If you hear shots in the building you are in, get away immediately! Don’t stop to gather up purses or phones – start moving without a second’s delay. Take other people with you, but if they won’t come, don’t waste time trying to convince them. Get outside to a safe place, and call 911. Keep others from entering the building if you can.

Second: Hide.

If you realize that the shots are nearby, and you can’t get safely away, hide. Close and lock the door of the room you are in. Turn out the lights. Block the door with furniture if you can do so quietly. Hide away from the door. Silence your phone ringer. Typically, a shooter will be looking for easy targets. If the shooter doesn’t see you, doesn’t hear you, and can’t easily open the door, he will pass along to the next easy target.

Third: Fight.

If you can’t run, and can’t hide, and believe you will be confronted by the shooter, do your best to incapacitate him. Get others to help; grab anything you can use as a weapon. This could mean a chair, a fire extinguisher, any heavy object. Be aggressive, and don’t quit! A lone shooter can be taken down by a group of determined fighters, even if there are injuries.

Step Two: Prevent workplace violence with effective personnel policies.

Consider the “culture” of your workplace. Is it casual, where people pretty much ignore security issues and disregard safety policies? Are sexist or racist jokes or rough behavior condoned?

To protect yourself and your co-workers, start now to create and encourage a non-violent environment. In particular, your company needs strong policies against violence and harassment, enforced with clear-cut guidelines involving how to report, to whom to report, etc.

Questions to ask about your own workplace:

  • Do we have policies against violence?
  • Do employees and management know and enforce these policies?
  • Do employees and management have resources they can call upon for extra assistance, including law enforcement and/or outside agencies?

Where is the threat likely to come from?

Most workplace violence comes from disgruntled employees or from employees who are experiencing a family crisis. When an employee is going through a divorce, a child custody case, a health crisis or some other desperate and difficult situation, it’s co-workers who will know about it, not management!

Encourage workers to watch for warning signs:

  • An increased fascination with weapons
  • Obvious substance abuse (absences, hangovers, etc.)
  • Stress, nervousness, sleeplessness
  • History of violence
  • Inconsistent or erratic behavior
  • Recent disciplinary or legal action

Questions to ask:

  • Are you aware of co-workers suffering from the symptoms above?
  • Do you know how and to whom to refer them so they can receive counseling or other assistance?

Step Three: Prevent workplace violence by protecting your perimeter.

The word “perimeter” sounds like a military term, but it is an expression that everyone who is concerned with disaster prevention should be familiar with.

If you have an identifiable perimeter – a fenced parking area, a building with entrances and exits – control it! Suggestions for controlling your perimeter:

“A locked door is a safer door.”

If the doors to your building and your office are always open, you could be surprised at any moment by an intruder. Perhaps it’s a thief, simply walking through the area and picking up briefcases, phones, purses or anything else lying around. Perhaps, however, that person is bent on violence. You might not have any warning before he or she shows up in front of you.

Of course, customer service may require that business entrance doors be readily accessible. But leaving doors unlocked for employee convenience may be dangerous!

Survey your building. What doors are being left propped open or unlocked to make it easier for employees to move around, or step outside to make a personal call or have a smoke? Strengthen the perimeter by:

  1. Announcing a new policy
  2. Posting signage telling people, “This door will be locked.”
  3. Locking those doors.

Naturally, fire safety must be considered at all times.

Monitor points of entry.

With a tighter perimeter, you can monitor who comes in. If you use cameras, they too must be monitored or they serve no purpose!

In other cases, lobby personnel may be performing the monitoring. If you have a receptionist seated at the front entrance, is that person trained on how to respond to a visitor? To a threat of violence? Naturally, different businesses will have different requirements. But training is essential – for regular employees and for temporary employees.

Identify who belongs and who doesn’t.

One of the simplest ways to support workplace security is to have and enforce the wearing of ID badges. This allows everyone to immediately notice who doesn’t belong – and therefore where there might be a threat.

These recommendations are not comprehensive, but they will work for many businesses. Contact your local police department for more details and to build a customized plan. Start now to develop the awareness that may protect you and your business from an incident of workplace violence.