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Preventing workplace violence is a constant challenge for employers, attorneys and security consultants say.
In 2010, there were 767 homicides in U.S. workplaces. But those are just the most extreme incidents; 1.175 million working days are lost each year in the U.S. due to workplace violence, said Joe Rosner, director of Hebron, Ill.-based self-defense consultancy Best Defense USA.
Zero-tolerance policies aren’t enough to prevent all violent incidents, Matthew Doherty, senior vice president of Chicago-based security risk management security firm Hillard Heintze, told Bloomberg BNA in a June 15 email.
“Zero tolerance policies, although needed and required do not constitute a workplace violence policy,” he said. A complete policy must cover suspensions and terminations, warning signs that might point toward the possibility of workplace violence, and domestic abuse, he said.
Zero-tolerance policies won’t stop a disgruntled worker or ex-worker determined to take revenge, Rosner said.
Rosner distinguished between four different types of workplace violence: incidents where there is criminal intent, which are responsible for 85 percent of workplace homicides; those caused by customers or clients; worker-on-worker violence; and incidents caused by personal relationships.
Working alone or in isolation is a risk factor for the first two types of workplace violence, Rosner said. Worker-on-worker incidents are the most likely to involve somebody using a firearm, as in the June 14 multiple murder at a UPS facility in San Francisco, Rosner said. But there are often warning signs that the employer can pick up on, he said, such as someone who is “obsessed” with using weapons to solve disputes and who has recently begun accumulating a lot of weapons and ammunition. Inadequate training is a risk factor in all types of workplace violence, he said.
There is a “continuum of violence” Rosner identified, with the action to be taken in response determined by the context. If there is any kind of physical contact intended to cause harm, even something like pinching or slapping, the police need to be called to arrest the perpetrator, he said.
“These attacks once again highlight the need for preparation of all citizens to respond to a sudden attack in a manner that is consistent with the environment of the event,” Greg Crane, president of the ALICE Training Institute in Medina, Ohio, wrote in a June 14 blog entry about the UPS shooting and the gun attack on members of Congress in Alexandria, Va. Choices of action boil down to three, depending on the setting and circumstances: “lockdown (securing-in-place), counter, and evacuate,” he said.
Elements of an employer program to prevent workplace violence, according to Rosner, include management commitment and employee involvement; written policies; work-site analysis; hazard prevention and control; training and education; record keeping and evaluation of the program.
One aspect of prevention that isn’t often thought of is the need to involve labor unions. Doherty said, “We have found a reluctance to include labor unions to participate in HR processes of interdisciplinary threat teams. This is unfortunate.”
For their part, he said, unions “need to place a priority of workplace safety over certain rights of a disgruntled employee,” he said. “HR and corporate needs to recognize that labor unions have a vested interest in the safety of the workplace.”
A workplace violence prevention plan can involve five elements, according to Glen E. Kraemer, a partner at management-side law firm Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP in Santa Monica, Calif. He mentioned setting up a “workplace violence prevention team”; auditing how vulnerable the organization is to violence; disseminating the organization’s anti-violence policy and providing training on warning signs; developing a site plan, which may include training on how to deal with an “active shooter”; and evaluating the plan’s effectiveness.
HR should not “take a back seat to security” in developing workplace violence prevention and response plans, Kraemer said. He discussed in detail employees who are overidentified with their jobs and yet failing at them, such as a case in which he provided legal counseling to the employer after the fact: On Jan. 7, 2010, a disgruntled employee of ABB Inc., a company that ran an electric transformer station in St. Louis, killed three co-workers and wounded five.
Employers must recognize the seriousness of the psychological harm when they have to fire an employee whose behavior has raised concerns and have a plan in place to prevent the ex-worker from doing harm in return, he said.
Rosner was speaking June 15 in a webinar sponsored by Aurora Training Advantage. Kraemer was speaking June 19 in a presentation at the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management in New Orleans.
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