Office safety Workplace violence Workplace violence

'No one ever just snaps'

Identifying – and acting on – red flags may help prevent workplace violence


Careful termination

Both Kienlen and Viollis said to exercise caution when terminating an employee believed to be dangerous. It may be appropriate to give the person a “soft landing” – such as an extension of medical benefits or severance package – to help the person cope.

For some of these perpetrators, their job is the core of their identity. “What that means, basically, is when you tell him he’s being fired, you’re not taking his job, you’re taking his life,” Viollis said.

He stressed the importance of planning out the termination and involving security early. Contacting security personnel two hours before the termination may not leave enough time to implement safeguards.

Kienlen agreed. She said a common mistake employers make is to terminate the employee and then worry about security. Instead, have the threat assessment team meet and plan out the process, and possibly put the person on leave in the meantime, she advised.

Run, hide, fight

The city of Houston has concise advice for how to respond to a worst-case scenario in which a shooting occurs: run, hide, fight.

The city produced a six-minute video depicting various responses to an active shooter. Funded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, “Run. Hide. Fight. Surviving an Active Shooter Event” was released shortly after the movie theater shooting last year in Aurora, CO.

Dennis Storemski, director of the Mayor’s Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security for the City of Houston, said the idea for the video came after agencies practiced their response to a large-scale attack. They were satisfied with the preparation of first responders but concerned about citizen readiness. They wanted an easy-to-remember phrase similar to “stop, drop and roll” – hence, run, hide, fight.

“Preparedness is just a matter of having a plan, and sometimes a plan is just simple,” Storemski said.

The video shows a gunman entering a building. The first recommendation is to run and evacuate, if possible. Do not spend a lot of time trying to make others leave if they resist going with you. If running is not possible, hide in a room and lock the door. A shooter will usually look elsewhere rather than wrestle with a locked door, according to Storemski. As a last resort, the video says to fight, which means attempt to disarm the gunman.

The video has received more than 1.4 million views on YouTube, and Storemski said private corporations, universities and federal entities have requested copies.

Ideally, employers would like to catch a threat before it reaches that level. Regarding identifying dangerous employees, Kienlen said preparing the workforce “takes a lot of dedication and commitment on the part of the employer to do it right, to really invest in the idea that we’re going to have a great workplace violence policy and we’re going to do everything we can to raise awareness for employees so that they report incidents of concern.”

Addressing domestic violence

When a worker is being abused at home, she or he is not the only one at risk. Advocates warn that the worker’s partner may target the person at work, so employers should include domestic violence in their workplace violence prevention policy.

Preliminary Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that, in 2011, nearly 2 out of 5 workplace homicides in which the victims were women were committed by a relative, often a spouse or domestic partner.

“It’s a productivity issue; it’s a health care issue; it’s an absenteeism issue; it’s a workplace safety issue,” Wells said.

CAEPV recently hosted a webinar on developing a domestic violence policy for small businesses that attracted 450 viewers. Wells pointed to the large number of attendees as evidence of an attitude change among employers from “Why should I care?” to “I know I should care about this, but what should I do?”

Employers can start by developing a policy dictating protocol for dealing with employees in a domestic violence situation. Wells suggested partnering with local police and domestic violence groups to learn about the issue and other resources. Supervisors are not expected to be counselors, but they should be able to refer an employee to local resources if necessary, Wells said.

She recommends providing all employees with a list of resources on their first day and revisiting the issue with an individual if abuse is suspected. The idea is to create a culture in which workers feel comfortable coming forward if they are facing domestic violence, Wells said, so make sure they know they will not be fired for saying something.

If an employee is being victimized, some workplace changes can help protect her or him. Examples from Wells include allowing a flexible work schedule to attend court appearances, removing the worker’s phone number from external websites and ensuring the person’s workspace is not in an isolated location.

– AJ

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