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Workplace Violence: A Look Beyond the Numbers

Photo of a shattered large pane of glass
Category - Business
by Hillary Bowling on September 17th, 2018

Sadly, all you need to do is turn on the nightly news to see yet another instance of workplace violence.

While it’s easy to push aside news of these incidents with the justification, “It can’t/won’t happen here,” the fact is that workplace violence can and does happen to unsuspecting organizations—and often for no immediately discernable reason. According to the National Safety Council, workplace violence is the 3rd leading cause of death for workers in these fields: healthcare, education, law and media.

A Look at the Numbers
Each year 2 million people are victims of some form of workplace violence. According to the FBI, 80% of active shooter incidents occur in the workplace. A whopping 27% of businesses have experienced at least one violent workplace incident within the last five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2016, there were 500 workplace homicides in the United States. This is an increase of 83 cases from 2015.

Warning Signs:

According to the Department of Homeland Security there are several warning signs to look for:

  • Increasingly erratic or aggressive behaviors, including paranoia.
  • Hostile feelings of injustice or perceived wrongdoing.
  • Marginalization or distancing from friends and colleagues.
  • Changes in performance at work.
  • Sudden and dramatic changes in home life or in personality.
  • Financial difficulties.
  • Pending civil or criminal litigation.
  • Observable grievances with threats and plans of retribution.

Why Planning Matters

If you think your organization is in the clear because you don’t have “disgruntled employees,” you may want to think again. Contrary to misconception, angry ex-workers or customers are not the most frequent perpetrators of workplace violence. In fact, in two-third of workplace homicides, there is no known personal link between the assailant and the victim. This was the case in the recent shooting at Fifth Third Bank Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. In this case the shooter is not known to have any ties to the bank. Yet three people died and two more were injured. Mental health factors are suspected.

But just because you can’t anticipate an imminent act of workplace violence doesn’t mean you can’t plan and prepare for it. In fact, you may be under legal requirement. The Occupational Safety and Health Act mandates that U.S. companies must assess their workplaces to ensure that they’re free of hazards, including violent attacks. Employers also have a government-mandated “duty of care” obligation to their employees. A workplace violence assessment and action plan serve as an invaluable defense against liabilities.

When you consider that the cost of a single homicide at work costs on average between $250,000.00 to $1,000,000 and the immense emotional toll it takes on fellow employees the imperative of preparedness becomes even clearer. In fact, as many as 40 percent of businesses impacted by disaster—either natural or human-caused—never reopen their doors, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

Certainly, these figures and statistics issue forth a loud call to today’s organizations. With workplace violence on the rise, inevitable, and unpredictable, taking steps to plan and prepare is a vital part of any organization’s strategies. The takeaway for organizations facing the reality that an act of violence might occur within their workplaces? Communication counts – an emergency action plan plays a vital role.

Have a Plan. Write it Down.

A documented plan is an invaluable resource which ensures that operational responses will stay on track during a workplace shooting, terrorist act, or other type of workplace violence. A written plan also boosts stakeholder confidence while simultaneously doing damage control against future liability.

Expand Your Reach

Two decades ago, reaching someone quickly meant picking up the phone. Today, however, there are not only multiple modalities through which to reach your team members, but their effectiveness is highly individualized. So, while the power is within your grasp to reach people quickly, doing so depends on your organization’s ability to leverage the available technology.

Emergency notification systems can serve as highly valuable tools for responding to workplace violence incidents. In times when a general evacuation alert, such as fire alarms or strobe, might place your team members in the path of the threat, multimodal emergency notifications systems allow for useful incident-specific instructions.

Emergency Notification System Advantages

What other features make emergency notification systems particularly suitable for keeping employees safe during workplace violence scenarios?

Text-based notifications: During active crisis situations, ringing phones may identify employees’ hiding locations and increase the odds of being targeted.

Two-way functionality: Allowing message recipients to respond lets employers assess team members’ whereabouts and statuses during and after an event.

Recorded voice messages: In coordination with law enforcement, the ability to notify family members using the recorded voice functionality—as opposed to text-to-speech or other text-oriented methods—delivered by a high-level company officer offers assurance and builds trust.

Inbound message retrieval: In addition to outbound messaging capabilities, a dial-in number for alert retrieval ensures that your crisis outreach plan and other essential communications are within easy reach of team members.

There’s no denying that active shooter events, terrorist acts, and other forms of workplace violence are devastating. But they’re also surmountable—particularly with the right tools in place. Understanding the threats, forming a crisis management team, devising and sharing an emergency action plan, and implementing a robust communications strategy are all crucial components in helping your employee—and your organization—survive tragedy.

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