New Advice on Workplace Shootings Follows Tragedies

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine

July 14 — The thinking on how to prevent workplace gun violence or stop an attack in progress is undergoing rapid and controversial changes because of recent high-profile tragedies, according to security and legal consultants.

“Some of the dynamics are changing,” Matthew Doherty, senior vice president of security risk management for Chicago-based security firm Hillard Heintze, told Bloomberg BNA July 12. He cited the issue of “radicalization in the workplace,” looking for signs of extremist behavior.

“Due to recent events, companies are going to have to grapple with that issue,” he said, though employers that have interdisciplinary threat assessment teams on workplace violence in place “don't have to reinvent the wheel” for this one aspect. “You have to discern between radical views that are constitutionally protected under freedom of speech, and warning signs of behavior that could potentially lead to violent extremism,” he said.

More broadly, warning signs and behaviors that could indicate somebody may be about to become a mass shooter are currently being refined and revised by the federal government and behavioral scientists, Doherty said.

Yet the federal authorities' advice may itself be controversial. The Department of Homeland Security advises a threefold response to an active shooter:

  •  1. “Run—Have an escape route and plan in mind, leave your belongings behind, keep your hands visible;
  •  2. “Hide—Hide in an area out of the active shooter’s view, block entry to your hiding place and lock the doors;
  •  3. “Fight—As a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger, attempt to incapacitate the active shooter [and] act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.”

New Advice on Active Shooters

That advice displaces the earlier advice from authorities to simply hide from an active shooter, Greg Crane, president of the ALICE Training Institute in Medina, Ohio, told Bloomberg BNA July 13. But he said he doesn't agree with the updated approach either.

The problem is that “the police can't get there in time” when someone with a gun is trying to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible, Crane said. His “ALICE” system doesn't involve “fighting back,” which, he said, “takes many years of training.” Instead, his firm suggests an approach in which the shooter's numerous targets rely on “body weight and gravity to take control. We don't want people fighting—we want them controlling” the shooter.

The survival rate of victims in mass shootings is less than 50 percent, compared with 85 percent for other victims of gun violence, because mass shooters “are firing at passive, static targets,” Crane said. Yet when police have to use their service weapons, he said, they miss 70 percent of the time “not because they're bad shots, but because it's a chaotic, dynamic environment. We aim to recreate that” for active shooters.

For an example of how that can work, Crane cited the 1981 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, when “Secret Service and the police took down the shooter in about three seconds without any shots being fired.” In the Orlando mass shooting, the ratio of potential victims to the shooter was “300-to-one,” he said, but they didn't know how to use their numerical advantage.

Prevention Through Teamwork

Of course, no one wants matters to reach such a pass. When it comes to prevention, “security best practice for companies is to have an interdisciplinary threat assessment team in place, in house or outsourced,” Doherty said. This team should include staff from “HR, legal, security and management, and an ad hoc labor union representative if necessary,” he said.

“Every employer should have a robust, zero-tolerance workplace violence policy,” Terri Solomon, shareholder in the New York office of management-side law firm Littler Mendelson, told Bloomberg BNA July 12. “If the employer does not want guns or other weapons in the workplace, it has to say that.”

Employers do have to keep in mind two types of state laws on this subject, however. “Laws prohibiting employers from having a policy that restricts an employee’s right to keep a gun in a locked car in the company parking lot” have been enacted in “Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin,” Solomon said in an e-mail.

“States with laws governing signage for prohibiting firearms on a property,” according to Solomon, are “Arkansas, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.”

Still, she said, “there is no state where an employer can't bar guns in the workplace.”

A Workplace Safety Issue?

Gun violence can also be viewed through the prism of workplace safety. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported more than 400 workplace homicides in the U.S. in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, making up 8.6 percent of all workplace fatalities, Jessica E. Martinez, acting executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, told Bloomberg BNA July 13. Her organization is concerned with all types of violence as “a hazard in the workplace” that employers “have a legal and moral responsibility” to address.

According to Martinez, most at risk of workplace violence are teachers and workers in law enforcement, mental health, transportation, health care and retail.

On July 12, a coalition of labor unions petitioned the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration to adopt “a comprehensive workplace violence prevention standard to protect all workers in healthcare and social service settings,” according to a same-day statement from the American Federation of Teachers, whose parent union, the AFL-CIO, was one of the petitioners (see related story). Martinez said her organization intends to release a statement supporting the petition.

The council and the American Public Health Association also support having the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigate the causes of gun violence, although it is currently barred from doing so by federal law.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at mbermangorvine@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Harris at tharris@bna.com

For More Information

The Department of Homeland Security's resource page on active shooter preparedness can be seen at https://www.dhs.gov/active-shooter-preparedness. The union petition to OSHA can be seen at http://coshnetwork.org/sites/default/files/uploads/WPV_petition_12July16.pdf. The AFT statement can be seen at http://www.aft.org/press-release/unions-representing-healthcare-workers-petition-workplace-safety.

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