Today’s Web Exclusive is from Steve Jones, the executive vice president and Chief Operations Officer of Universal Protection Service, located in Santa Ana, CA. He has over 15 years of management experience specializing in training and emergency response programs.
Most people assume workplace violence is targeted towards specific individuals, but that was not the case on Jan. 30, 2006 when a female postal worker fatally shot five coworkers and injured another before killing herself. Investigators speculated, but were unable to determine the motivation behind the shooting rampage. The suspect was able to enter the Santa Barbara Processing and Distribution Center in Goleta, CA, by driving behind a vehicle that was entering the facility. After shooting her first two victims in the parking lot, she was able to force her way into the building where the other fatalities occurred.
Scenarios such as this are not uncommon in the headlines, but this female-instigated workplace murder-suicide is extremely rare. According to the Violence Policy Center, in more than 90% of workplace violence incidents the shooter is male, and 76% of murder-suicides occur in the home.
Long considered the top threat by security professionals nationwide—even higher than terrorism—workplace violence can, and has, occurred in virtually every type of environment. Facilities with secure access, such as gated entries and entry cards, often do not stop the actions of individuals with violent intent.
In the Goleta shooting, a co-worker stated that the suspect had been put on disability leave “for the safety of herself” because of changes in her actions and behaviors. But no one considered how this behavior could affect other employees.
The problem of workplace violence is no longer exclusive to any specific industry, economic class or geographic location. The damages from the events are often lasting, affecting individuals physically and emotionally and impacting businesses at their bottom-line. Implementation of a violence prevention program can help you better prepare and reduce the impact of violence on your organization.
Develop A Violence Prevention Program
Defined as any act or threat of aggression—from physical assault, physical gestures, and homicide, to verbal abuse and harassment—occurring on the property or in the environment where an employee works, workplace violence is an issue that the majority of people working today have experienced violence at some level. Management and others responsible for the well-being of employees must consider implementing a violence prevention program that is specific to the needs and potential risks of their organization.
The basic elements of a comprehensive violence prevention program include a clearly written company violence policy statement, an established threat assessment team that conducts a thorough risk assessment, the identification of workplace hazard control and prevention, strong training and education, and thorough incident reporting, follow-up, and evaluation. A properly designed program can help administration and employees recognize warning signs and appropriately handle incidents to minimize risk and improve overall safety.
Violence Policy Statement
A clearly defined policy statement establishes boundaries, defines roles and responsibilities, explains procedures, and communicates the organization’s commitment to safety. Consider these elements when developing a violence prevention policy:
• Your organization’s definition of violence as it relates specifically to your facility, people and risks;
• A zero-tolerance statement, outlining actions that will not be tolerated and subsequent repercussions, including cause for automatic termination;
• The roles and responsibilities of all members of the organization;
• Methods for encouraging employees, students and others in the facility to become educated, trained, and aware of violence prevention;
• Procedure for reporting, investigating, and evaluating reports; and
• Privacy protection for individuals reporting threats or suspicions behavior.
Once in place, it is imperative that management creates awareness of the policy and defines standard disciplinary responses for failing to adhere to its guidelines. Even the finest plan is worthless if employees are unaware of it.
The Threat Assessment Team
The Threat Assessment Team analyzes past, present, and future security concerns, implements response procedures, and coordinates education and training programs. The team should regularly update and review the violence prevention program to increase its overall effectiveness as incidents occur and the organization’s environment changes.
When deciding who should represent the threat assessment team for your organization, include individuals from senior management, human resources, security, finance, and legal. Establishing a multidisciplinary team where all departments, levels, and members of the organization are equally represented will prove beneficial in the development, communication, and implementation of the violence prevention program. Also, be aware of the interaction members of the team currently have with each other. Open lines of communication between all members are vitally important to the success of any violence prevention program.
The Hazard Assessment exposes current and potential weaknesses that make the organization vulnerable to violent acts. The process begins by analyzing previous incidents, including an assessment of the situation and how it was handled. Recognizing any trends that have emerged from previous incidents will prove useful in the development of the violence prevention program. A workplace survey given to all employees is also a useful tool that can ascertain when and where employees feel the most vulnerable. Employee input can identify hazards that may not have been seen by the threat assessment team.
Those conducting the Hazard Assessment should ask questions such as, “What makes our organization vulnerable?” “Which positions pose a higher risk?” “What are the current weaknesses in our security policies?” And always remember to include the building’s layout, its environment, the lighting, and the parking lot when doing the assessment.
Hazard Control And Prevention
Once hazards have been identified, a plan of action and control methods to prevent and correct the vulnerabilities can be developed. Implement procedures for situations which pose a higher risk.
For example, working late or during non-business hours or conducting business offsite reduces the level of control the employer or organization will have over a violent act. Company-wide awareness of proper preventive measures will not only help employees voice their concerns and report violence, but also enable the threat assessment team to recognize warnings signs.
Education And Training
A violence prevention program cannot be considered truly effective until management and employees are thoroughly educated and trained based on their roles and responsibilities within the organization. The educational requirements of an employee who has daily interaction with the public may include specific procedures for dealing with possible scenarios, while the education for employees who travel could include a list of awareness tips.
Possible methods for training include videos, online interactive training, seminars, manuals, and other distributable materials.
Investigation And Evaluation
Following a violent act, the effectiveness of the violence prevention program is thoroughly evaluated so the threat assessment team can identify aspects of the program needing updates or changes. If, and when, another incident occurs the program will be more effective in reducing threat, injury or fatality.
Warning signs, how they were addressed and why they were missed is information that can be used for future prevention. In addition, look for positive correlations between the presence of one variable and the occurrence of another.
How will a violent act affect the organization in both the long- and short-term? According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, “studies have found that educating and supporting an employee after a traumatic incident reduces the employee’s period of disability.” In the long-term, this will help the organization maintain productivity following a traumatic incident, saving both time and money.
An assistance program helps with the psychological affects on employees, administration and, if necessary, their families, following an incident. Providing a variety of mental health resources or services such as group therapy and individual counseling will reduce the long-term effect of the incident on the employee’s overall health and well-being, and help regain normal organizational performance and productivity.
The overall goal of a violence prevention program is to proactively reduce the exposure of employees to threatening individuals or situations, addressing the threat before an incident occurs.
A properly initiated violence prevention program holds everyone accountable in the event that an incident occurs. Although smaller organizations may find the initial financial investment overwhelming, the long-term investment is cost-effective and significantly reduces employer liability. In fact, the financial implications of one incident are more costly than the implementation of a comprehensive and well-maintained violence prevention program.
Business Risk Factors And Violence Warning Signs
Risk Factors (provided by The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH)
• Contact with the public
• Exchange of money
• Delivery of passengers, goods, or services
• Having a mobile workplace, such as a taxi or police cruiser
• Working with unstable or volatile persons in health care, social services, or criminal justice settings
• Working alone or in small numbers
• Working late at night or during early morning hours
• Working in high-crime areas
• Guarding valuable property or possessions
Warning Signs (provided by Crain’s Detroit Business, 2004)
• Direct, veiled and conditional threats
• A fascination with violence, militaristic activities or weaponry
• Paranoia, depression or suicidal tendencies
• A sense of entitlement or injustice
• Externalization of blame
• Poor impulse control
1. OSHA: Sample Workplace Violence Prevention Program
2. California Department of Industrial Relations: Injury & Illness Prevention Model Program for Workplace Security
3. Leadership for the Frontlines (2000, June). Workplace Violence-Prevention Program Audit.