Violence In America: a Workplace Responsibility

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Violence In America: a Workplace Responsibility

Posted on: June 30th, 2016

Violence in America is a Workplace Responsibility. It’s about management commitment, investment and leadership if workplace violence prevention is to have any real societal prevention value. I would like to make the leap in searching for a paradigm shift in how workplace violence prevention and violence response is taught in workplaces. For example, teaching warning signs alone will not help in identifying at risk employees or students without observable acts of aggression. “Merely teaching warning signs without connecting behavior and patterns can lead to false positives” (Professor James Alan Fox, Professor, Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University and author of Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool Through College).

Recent violent acts of aggression suggest a correlation between workplace violence and violence in America. If we accept the leap that workplaces reflect a microcosm of our society, it’s safe to reason that workplaces have a responsibility to introduce credible workplace violence prevention and violence response policies, procedures and training.  If management commitment believes in the effect of the disgruntled employee, the potential for the “workplace spillover into society” then is a reality. Can workplace management exercise more leadership in its responsibility to manage the potentially hostile workplace settings? The following are employee first hand accounts of just this.

If one believes the news accounts, law enforcement and employee reports, there appears to be a disgruntled employee involvement, and its “workplace spillover into Society” may be a new threat between the recent incidents at San Bernardino, CA and Orlando, Fla.

“In the San Bernardino Shooting incident, “Investigators believe there were three gunmen and one of them had worked at the facility and recently had a dispute with fellow employees, according to law enforcement officials.” (Michael Schmidt, New York Times, Details Emerge of a Deadly Plan)

 

“Farook… was a 28-year-old public health employee for San Bernardino County, where he had worked for the past five years. According to witnesses, he began to argue with another employee at the office holiday party. He then left the party and retrieved his wife, and both returned around 11 a.m. armed with assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns and dressed in black tactical gear.” (San Bernardino: Workplace Violence or Terrorism?, Stratfor Analysis, December 3, 2015)

The correlation between public violence and the angry/disgruntled employee threat may be an “ambiguous and present danger.” That being the case, I believe that workplace management has a leadership role in implementing and managing robust, agile and proactive workplace violence prevention and violence response policies and programs. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prevent incidents of workplace violence entirely. However, by implementing comprehensive procedures, educating employees on necessity of recognizing and reporting threatening, suspicious or otherwise troubling conduct, and taking other preventive measures puts an employer in a better position to recognize, confront and perhaps eliminate some of the risk of workplace violence.

“The recent tragic events at San Bernardino, CA and Orlando, FL serve as a reminder of the evidence that forthcoming violence may start in the workplace. In the case of the Orlando shooter, the subsequent investigation had revealed that the shooter made threatening and/or menacing statements at work about his ties to different terrorist organizations. He is also reported to have made statements of support, at work, for the violent and extreme actions of others, such as the Boston bombing perpetrators. Such reports question whether the employer even had a credible reporting policy in place.” (The Workplace Report with Ancel Glink, Workplace Violence – Time for Policy Review, Bob McCabe, Friday, June 17, 2016)

Proper training in aspects of workplace violence prevention teach employees how to best connect the dots between warning signs and aggression as potential indicators of things to come. Employers unintentionally diminish the value of workplace violence prevention by undertaking such training on limited budgets and/or with internal resources using expedient means, measures and time limitations. How does an organization train adults on workplace violence prevention in front of a computer without the benefit of an experienced facilitator to answer hypothetical questions and respond to concerns? Such approaches to training undermine employee confidence, as the training is seen as “checking the box”. Employers have an obligation to attach as much credibility to the importance of the training by not unconsciously sabotaging their own efforts.

Adequate training in active shooter/hostile intruder by an experienced workplace violence prevention consultant who understands organizational design, workplace dynamics and the human relations issues are better suited to correlate workplace violence prevention with the mindset of the active shooter/hostile intruder threat, as a part of the training and consulting process. Employees who are exposed to the 5 (five) stages or 5 (five) phases of the active shooter mindset can make better prevention decisions and draw prevention value from recognizing and reporting strange behavior. The workforce family that spends 1/2 of their 24 hour clock at work often are familiar with co-worker problems and violence prone displays which rear their ugly heads at work. Denial of the importance as a critical workplace safety concern undermines the investment and commitment. Such an unfortunate position reminds me of the old Lee Myles Transmission TV commercial: “Pay me now or pay me later.” The sad truth is that civil liability lawsuits will cost the firm much more that the meager financial investment in the training.

Because employees are a microcosm of our society, those who commit such crimes reflect our communities. Perpetrators exposed to at risk environmental factors such as difficult and domestic and family lives, financial burdens exacerbated by hardships, medical problems and other personal problems increase vulnerabilities and gaps in physical and personnel security. Prone to aggression these employees can become the aggressors, attractive pawns who blame others and likely victims who don’t report the victimization. In his book, “In Search of the Miraculous”,  Russian philosopher Peter Ouspensky lists four basic causes of negative emotions: (1) justification; (2) identification; (3) inward considering; and (4) blame. It is blame that especially generates anger. Ouspensky believes that the trigger of anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, and frustration is blame.

Since the Orlando shooting massacre, the phrase, “If you see something say something” has been tossed around by law enforcement.” What better way for workplace management to recognize a leadership responsibility in helping employees recognize warning signs, acts of aggression before some of the signs mentioned above are manifested and overlooked and something like a shooting at work or a public placed tied to a workplace issue ever happens.

10 Practical Workplace Violence Prevention Tips to Energize Your Honorable Intentions

Posted on: February 15th, 2016

Workplaces tend to avoid developing comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs probably because they associate comprehensive with complicated. Comprehensive merely means taking a broad view of what workplace violence means and how it affects your workplace and workforce and applying appropriate strategies and measures. To me comprehensive can mean practical. Practical can apply to complex situations in breaking down assignments and responsibilities in coordinating the effort.

In this Blog, practical workplace violence prevention tips are just that, common sense, cost effective tactics that workplaces can implement and manage without investing a whole lot of money, time and energy spent arguing for or against logical implementation of prevention measures. Practical simply means KISS (Keep It Simple Silly). I would like workplace leadership to think in terms of small nuggets as in an ounce of prevention is worth a pound in cure. In short, it is hopeful that these 10 practical tips can dismantle the notion of being complicated in favor of developing an approach supervisors and security personnel can adopt. The intent of this discussion is to start a robust discussion that considers workplace violence prevention well within your own capability and ability to implement and manage interdependent, with minimal outside intervention.

Why is implementing and managing a workplace violence prevention initiative important to your pocketbook and brand?  According to the requirements established by OSHA (Occupational Safety Health Administration) employers are obligated to provide their employees with a place of employment that is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm…to employees.” 

Creating an agile and proactive workplace violence prevention program insulates the workplace against possible charges of dereliction and negligence in civil liability law suits or by employee organizations. In addition, it sends a message that Zero Tolerance is not the definition of termination but of a proactive intervention strategy that looks at every reported incident for possible root causes and contributing factors. Creating credible complaint reporting system and hasty resolution process can benefit an organization when supervisors are actively engaged, as part of a culture of zero tolerance. Without a credible complaint reporting system employees lose trust and confidence in the workplace violence prevention policy. Credible reporting can be anonymous as well.

These suggested practical workplace violence prevention tips will not only energize workplaces or an educational institution’s prevention efforts, but “incentivize” the performance and initiative by avoiding OSHA citations. While these OSHA citations are not necessarily financially debilitating, they are a negative impact on the internal and external public image, adversely affecting the Brand, employee morale, performance and production.

Here are 10 Practical Workplace Violence Prevention Tips to help identify the potentially at risk workplace in preventing escalation, managing aggression and protecting the workforce. These tips are not intended to be the end all but a part of an ongoing integrated and coordinated seamless process:

  1. Review and reissue your Workplace Violence Prevention and/or Harassment Policy Statement annually if needed.
  2. Instruct and remind supervisors of their responsibility to report, document, assess and evaluate every complaint as part of the hasty complaint resolution effort.
  3. Take the time to review incidents in a timely manner to identify repeat offenders, repeat incidents, patterns, gaps in security and identifying situations requiring immediate attention.
  4. Instruct and remind employees that reporting at risk situations and employees is their responsibility in preventing escalation and at risk situations.
  5. Instruct and remind employees of the organization’s workplace violence prevention policy reporting protocols and procedures as necessary.
  6. Review your visitor protocol policy to include visitor management and access control for all visitors especially former employees, spouses and families.
  7. Review your domestic violence/intimate partner/personal relationship policy to ensure employees know what services are offered and what their responsibilities are.
  8. Train supervisors & managers in how best to hastily manage at risk situations in providing needed intervention.
  9. Test your emergency evacuation plan to respond to a hostile intruder/active shooter threat procedures.
  10. Managers should conduct frequent on site work-site specific assessments of employee work settings and operations.

“Because workplace violence prevention should be an ongoing process involving multiple intervention strategies, these tips can make the process cost-effective, proactive and seamless.”

Seamless can mean many things to different people, for the benefit of this Blog, seamless means the ability to integrate, collaborate and coordinate resources with little disruption, cost effectively, efficiently and routinely. In other words, you will not need to have a large human resource department fixated on prevention or an armed security force as an employee confidence builder or even a large budget.

Armed personnel are not immune from the societal, environmental or family risk factors. Investing a lot of money does not mean effective either.  The focus must be on “prevention.” What we really need is an organizational culture that understands leadership’s role in workplace violence prevention, preventing escalation, resolving conflict and managing aggression.

Experience teaches workplace violence prevention consultants that having a well-trained supervisory workforce in aspects of workplace violence prevention can be effective in managing the potentially hostile workplace and at risk work settings. Workplaces that recognize the value of prevention realize that having robust, agile and proactive (RAP) interdiction strategies really contributes to the cost-effective, seamless coordination and results.

For those of us who do not subscribe to the myths of workplace violence we’re ahead of the problem because proactive workplace violence prevention interdiction strategies are key in effectively reducing risks by managing potentially hostile situations and employees. We know that a proactive workplace violence prevention program creates a trusting workforce that believes that management’s effort are not just lip services, but a commitment and investment in workforce safety and security. This investment must start at the top with clear expectations and go to the bottom of the workforce and meet at the center in achieving understanding. I have seen this play out in several organizations with positive results.

Preventing workplace violence is a duty, legal and moral responsibility CEOs, Executive Directors and Agency Administrators have as part of their fiduciary roles. Those of us responsible for workplace violence prevention can benefit from having a robust, agile, and proactive approach in managing aggression, at risk situations and taking immediate corrective measures. If interested in moving in this direction the approach is not difficult?

The San Bernardino Shootings: Was it Workplace Violence or Domestic Terrorism?

Posted on: December 6th, 2015

I am not trying to take on the those bigger than me but, I see many lessons learned from this San Bernardino tragedy that has increased my passion to do the right thing for the right reasons. Whatever the media, law enforcement, politicians or the employer finally decide to call the San Bernardino Shootings is their prerogative based on their investigations. The law enforcement the effort is commendable leaving no stone unturned, I understand their concern and due diligence .  I have a saying, “I would rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6.” (I don’t know who said it, I just live by it.) In the meantime, we must collaborate to insure we do not misidentify this incident.  I prefer under speculation and over delivering. A security management consultant with a specialty in workplace violence prevention never limits the options in arriving at the most holistic assessment.

Judging from all the varying raw news reports, it is difficult to dismiss the workplace connection.  After all, there were employee observations and witness accounts pertaining to a possible workplace dispute at the party. 

We know something occurred at the San Bernardino County Health Department holiday party at the Inland Regional Center between employee(s) and Syed Rizwan Farook.  Whatever transpired, it triggered an angry reaction causing the employee to leave the party.  Coincidentally, witness accounts have since described the shooter who had left the party earlier as possibly being Farook.  We will never know what actually escalated to such retaliatory anger unless those involved come forward to disclose their knowledge.

The holistic workplace violence prevention assessment views the workplace incident from a variety of angles in arriving at conclusions and recommendations. Even while law enforcement appropriately pursues the shooting as an act of terrorism, there is some grounded speculation that this incident may relate to employees and a workplace related unresolved dispute. For most of us who view holiday parties as an opportunity to relax and let our hair down, holiday parties and other settings where employees mix joviality with disgruntled attitudes there exist a mixture for fueled hostilities.  Who knows what might have been said at the holiday party or whether there was ill will over a prolonged period of time.  Only an independent critical assessment of the facts, circumstances and observations will help lead to what might have actually triggered the shooting.

What has been reported is that San Bernardino County employees Syed Rizwan Farook and others were engaged in some verbal altercation at the holiday party.  Media reports have also developed varying witness accounts of their observations who said that shortly before Farook stormed out of the party he appeared upset about something.

Others have said that one of the shooters who had his face covered sounded and appeared like the employee in question, saying he appeared similar to the employee who left the party earlier.  What we know as fact is that Farook along with his wife, Tashefeen Malik are dead.

Law enforcement has an obligation to establish what happened, the motive and determine if the shootings were a Mass Shooting, Domestic Terrorism or Workplace Violence. Truthfully, violence of this type in my mind’s eye is “workplace terrorism”! I have written on the topic of workplace violence and domestic terrorism in the past. The fact remains that Mr. Farook was a San Bernardino County employee who either had an unresolved grievance or ongoing dispute with a co-worker(s).  Existing, unresolved workplace disputes and social events sponsored by the employer are nasty combinations for mismanaged grievances and ongoing conflict.  These are observations and clues that can offer perspective and shed some light. Lessons can be learned regardless of the outcome in the need to develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention and violence response policies and plans and training for all levels of the workforce.  

As we view the threat of workplace violence and the impact on the workplace and worker safety, emotions run rampant.  It is not unusual for employee perpetrators of such violence to store weapons and ammunitions prior to their deadly rampage. The Nation’s first workplace mass murder occurred at the Edmonton Post Office, Oklahoma, August 19, 1986. Robert Sherill, letter carrier at the Edmonton Post Office entered the Post Office carrying his mailbag over his shoulder. In the bag were two. 45 caliber semi-automatic pistols, property of the National Guard and his own .22 caliber handgun.  At his home law enforcement found more guns and stacks of magazines, mostly of Soldier of Fortune and Soviet Life. Draw your own conclusions! 

Person’s feelings exposed to ongoing harassment, verbal abuse and unresolved bullying creates a sense of festering and intimidation. Poor management intervention implies disparate treatment, poor supervision and poor leadership create harsh feelings in the hearts and minds of alleged victims.  These feelings in some are sufficient enough to create validation and justification for their intended retaliatory decisions and subsequent actions. We must keep in the mind that mental illness can’t be the rationale used to always describe these “perpetrators”.  

Pre-planning is essential. This particular incident isn’t only about news coverage and reporting speculation, it is about realities that regardless of the speculation, indicates little investment in workplace violence prevention and violence response policy and training. More can be done to increase situational awareness through quality workplace violence prevention training to prepare employees to respond appropriately anywhere to a homicidal threat of  homicidal violence. Such training when designed with the workplace in mind considers the unique worksites and the employee risk factors.

According to news reports there was mass confusion at the Inland Regional Center.  Responding police officers said, fire alarms were blaring and there were employees who were reluctant to comply with their request to exit the center.  Such observations indicate those employees were not aware of what to do during such an emergency.  Training has to prepare the work force to be better prepared and informed of what options and courses of action to take, the police response and police encounter and post incident notification instructions. 

Discovery by law enforcement of 12 pipe bombs, tools and components to construct IEDs or pipe bombs, weapons and ammunition are not out of the norm in describing the active shooter mindset.  Active Shooters typically progress through five stages: fantasy stage, planning stage, preparation stage, approach stage and implementation stage. Each stage has a unique set of behaviors and activities on the way to the final stage. The materials and weapons found at the Farook home appear consistent with the patterned behavior within the active shooter mindset as in the Robert Sherill Post Office Murders cited above. In other words, it would not be unusual to use IEDs to create confusion or distractions. However, there are always distinctions that can be made and applied in any unique situation such as in these shootings.  This tragedy may just as well be a shooting involving domestic terrorism, I want to seize the moment to extract valuable lessons we can learn apply.  But, on the surface it appears to be the act of a disgruntled employee whom for whatever reason(s) transitioned to become an angry killer with possible domestic terrorism implications.

Minor incidents of workplace violence occur daily in every type of business whether you know it or not or care to know about it. Victims of workplace violence often tell their doctors, families, friends, neighbors, law enforcement, and pastor of their frustrations before reporting it to their supervisors out of fear of reprisals.  Lately I can include myself on this list.  

That’s why it’s important for workplace leaders to cautiously consider external statistics not reflective of their own data collection of reported incidents. Considering other national statistics in the implementation of workplace violence prevention and violence response strategy could be faulty.  Avoiding the need to prepare on the probability of occurrence in the end may not be prudent.  Such risk management practices suggest such an incident can never happen and “IF” it does happen the police can handle it. So if it’s a management’s belief that it is highly improbable a workplace shooting will ever happen, the prudent decision to invest may not happen.  Employers have an ethical, moral and legal duty to provide the workforce a safe workplace. Courts do not weigh lack of budgets and corporate culture in considering responsibility. 

Workplaces experience varying levels of verbal abuse, name calling, harassment and intimidating behavior by employees on employees, non-employees and opportunistic criminals.  The concern is whether the workplace has policies and procedures in place to handle such incidents in managing the potentially hostile workplace. 

When organizations fail to recognize the need to take proactive workplace violence prevention measures, they contribute to unintentional consequences and are surprised by employee/former employee acts of violence. From the observations and speculation, the San Bernardino shooting appears to have a workplace relationship. One report said that  Farook and a co-worker had a heated argument over Farook’s Islam Religion several weeks earlier.  As such the consequences are huge in terms of loss of life, physical injury and psychological trauma.  The unfortunate reality is that these incidents force employers to take a closer look at their workplace security and not their workplace violence prevention strategy. And even when post shooting recommendations state specific changes be adopted, these implementations are often slow because of internal disagreements and budgets. In some cases recommendations are not yet adopted.

Surely, we must agree that preparing for the “IF” it happens instead of “WHEN” it happens is not the right business-security approach. “IF” implies denial or reluctance to implement proper procedures and protocols. Employers who dismiss the need for quality workplace violence prevention policies to include procedures, protocols and training are uninformed and unaware of the impact and are misinformed about the value of strategies tied to quality training.  Just having a written workplace violence prevention policy is not enough. the workforce must have knowledge of what to do upon witnessing an incident and when they are victims; and supervisors must know how to assess and evaluate reported incidents.

So, does your company have a workplace violence prevention and violence response policy? Have you been trained on the policy, procedures and protocols? How frequently? On a 1-10 point rating scale, how effective do you rate the training you’ve received? From your experiences, what is your gut feeling about the San Bernardino Tragedy?

Remember, once a disgruntled employee transitions to thoughts of homicidal violence, those thoughts and subsequent decisions were likely predicated on their validation and justification based on their perceptions of unfairness, disparity and exposure. In the end this may well be a case of “domestic terrorism” tied to an international group.  How prepared are you now? What protective measures are in place?

 

Corroborating Workplace Bullying Complaints Through Documentation

Posted on: February 21st, 2015

In this Blog, Ruth and Phil MacNeill of PRMAC Consulting and Research share their perspective on corroborating workplace bullying complaints through documentation.  While the MacNeill’s focus is on the employee rather than the employer, and workplace bullying rather than violence, we share the common goals of promoting safer, healthier and more productive work environments. Reporting and documentation are inseparable partners

“If you have an important point to make, don’t try to be subtle or clever. Use a pile driver. Hit the point once. Then come back and hit it again. Then hit it a third time a tremendous whack.Winston Churchill

Workplace bullying can have serious negative impacts on individuals and on companies, and is all too common. The Workplace Bullying Institute estimates that up to one-third of workers may be victims of workplace bullying, with about 20 of incidents crossing the line into harassment. If left unchecked, reduced productivity, chronic absenteeism and the possibility of expensive litigation are just a few of the costs of bullying. Therefore, rationale self-interest is a valid prompt for supporting a respectful work environment, whether your role is employer, supervisor, or employee.

But stopping workplace bullying is easier said than done as the devil is in the details. Only by  meticulously documenting bullying incidents as they occur, can there be any reasonable expectation that an ensuing investigation will lead to a successful resolution.

Consider the task of an investigator who has to establish facts in order to fairly assess the alleged bullying situation. It’s safe to assume they know nothing of your character or background, but even if they do, any fair determination must be based on an impartial rendering of facts. The same applies to a review by a judge and a court of law, should a complaint escalate to litigation. So, what do either need to establish what the facts are in order to perform their analysis?

Written and/or verbal accounts of the event(s} are an essential part of an investigation because they provide perspective and leads. However, multiple perspectives on the same incident can be contradictory and ambiguous because of personal bias and even fabrications by those involved. So, without tangible proof, a complaint often remains an “alleged incident” due to insufficient evidence.

Evidence that can stand up under scrutiny must be accurately detailed and presented in a way that supports an investigator or a judge and a court of law reaching a thorough and accurate understanding.

Documentation is composed of material that provides official information or evidence, and serves as a legal record. Ideally, every incident needs to be documented with other supporting documents, if these are available. Documentation establishes facts and may also reveal a pattern of bullying behavior. It may be noticed as you document that each incident alone may not add up to the the “bomb” but bullies are often a stone in your shoe and the documenting of many incidents will uncover their intent.

Therefore it is in your best interest to keep an organized record.

When you are designing your documentation matrix, it should contain this detailed information:

  1. The date and time of each incident.
  2. The location of each incident.
  3. Who was involved in each incident? Include the names of the bully or bullies, as well as witnesses.
    Note: Although bystanders may not feel that they are involved, they are
    automatically drawn in as a part of the scenario as witnesses.
  4. A description of each incident in detail including the exact nature of the actions. Try to include
    quotes and don’t censor profanity and expletives. Indicate how these actions made you feel and
    how it impacted your work.
  5. Supporting documentation: Be thorough, as each incident, even small ones, can map a pattern
    of repeated bullying. Attach each supporting document as an appendix to the record of the
    incident and be sure to cross-reference the appendices with the incident to ensure the accuracy
    and readability of your evidence. In addition to hard copies, keep the electronic files, as these
    provide a date signature. Some examples of supporting documentation include:
  6. Communications such as emails, notes, letters and cyber postings.
  7. A transcript of each offending voice mail.
  8. Photographs of any acts of vandalism.
  9. Try to obtain written statements from anyone who witnessed the harassment. Their written
    description of an incident will help validate your complaint.

Make two copies of all documentation and store them in secure and separate places. Don’t keep the evidence at work or you may find it missing. Similarly, if you are fired, you may not otherwise have access to it. If you keep at least one electronic copy of the documentation, this will electronically date the document(s).

While the above doesn’t guarantee an investigation will necessarily swing a decision in your favour, the stronger your evidence base, the closer you will come to aligning with Winston Churchill’s prescription for making your important point.

Workplace Violence – A Reality of Real Proportions

Posted on: February 8th, 2015

Since 1989 statistics and surveys generated by the American Society of Safety Engineers, Pinkerton, the Conference Board and other prominent organizations have consistently reported that workplace violence was a workplace security threat. In the years following September 11, 2001, Workplace Violence  remains a Reality of Real Proportions.  Workplace Violence remained in the top three categories of workplace security concerns: Workplace Violence, Business Continuity, Terrorism and Computer-Based Crimes in that order.

If workplace violence is truly a concern, can we imply by the surveys that companies are in denial or lack the resources to address the threat?

Is the counsel and advise requested falling short of viable solutions and tools available to workplaces? While technology alone is the not the solution to workplace violence prevention, proactive intervention strategies that include technology can create creditable value in the hearts and minds of the workforce.

In terms of viable alternatives,  on October 5, 2011, ASIS International and SHRM Released a Joint Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention ANSI Standard ASIS/SHRM Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention American National Standard aimed at helping organizations implement policies and practices to more quickly identify threatening behavior and violence affecting the workplace, and to engage in effective incident management and resolution.

The new Standard reflects a consensus from professionals in the fields of security, human resources, mental health, law enforcement, and legal. It serves as an important tool to help organizations evaluate current practices; develop or enhance workplace violence prevention and intervention programs; and effectively manage post-incident issues. So why aren’t workplaces familiar with this document and the value it offers? Can we defend our actions in the aftermath of a major workplace or school incident?

Does Your Firm Have a specific policy on Workplace Violence Prevention?

Could the lack of a coordinated response be the real threat to workplace safety in preventing workplace violence or has the discussion of probability justified no response or a limited response? I reluctantly say I think so. Though the decision to commit resources is certainly a thoughtful one, can a misunderstanding of what constitutes incidents of workplace violence be at the head of the discussion? How are workplace violence prevention consultants selected? Do we ask for verifiable proof of past performance or rely on warm and cozy feelings of compatibility when critical thinking should be the objective?

In reviewing employee handbooks on misconduct, a lack of specific references on the topic of workplace violence is evident. Often times relative references appear in different section throughout the handbooks without any specific mention or a dedicated section to workplace violence. Either the contributors to such handbooks are misinformed or just defining the behavior as “misconduct” under an umbrella clause? Whatever the reason(s), employees do not know what to report or why they are being cited. Could it be that no one on staff knows what constitutes workplace violence?

In reviewing newspaper accounts of recent workplace shooting incidents they appear to to cry out for intervention and prevention measures that might have had different outcomes.  Are these shooting incidents preventable? One familiar with prevention strategies could be in a better position to recognize the need for swift and appropriate interdiction and begin applying multiple intervention solutions. While the denial might be an unintentional consequence  of corporate misunderstandings, I submit that employers are concerned but might lack the awareness, understanding and the technical expertise. What can we do?

Applying Basic Strategies Might Help To Reduce the Threat.

Because most workplaces are unique, we recommend that you avoid the cookie-cutter mentality to deploying Workplace Security & Workplace Violence Prevention Strategies. When the approach is based on attempting to apply the cookie-cutter approach, one will miss the value of conducting unique work-site assessments that might not yield relevant vulnerabilities to your specific environment. The cookie-cutter approach in applying best practices do not always work. Basic strategies might not work without applying unique site-specific assessments and customized approaches.

All is not lost, because even with a little effort there are steps you can take to begin the process of identifying your unique characteristics and needs. May I suggest you begin the process with a site assessment, employee and management surveys, risk assessment, training, developing a policy and supporting programs and sustaining the effort with ongoing training and new employee orientations. When considering whether to begin the process of deploying a Workplace Violence Prevention Program or not, begin with a critical vulnerability assessment of your own business practices.

When was the last time you conducted an assessment of your workplace security and business practices? Or, when was the last time you had a medical examination?  

Can you survive the scrutiny of an OSHA complaint inquiry or a civil liability lawsuit? I would begin the process now rather than later. Having a demonstrated commitment can bolster credibility and create confidence in employees who otherwise have private discussions about where they might hide when the shooter comes in. Or why should I report a potential threat and have my job changed in the interest of safety? In many cases, both sides are mutually sharing the excuse of,if it’s not broke don’t fix it“.

The time has come for all workplaces to confirm the need to improve workplace violence prevention by asking tough questions that go to the core of how vulnerable are we or how prepared are our workplace, educational or healthcare institution employees in recognizing risk, at risk situations and responding to a hostile threat or active shooter.

Stop the cookie-cutter application of cutting and pasting policies and plans and do consider your workplace unique with unique circumstances. Begin the process by conducting a critical workplace violence prevention vulnerability assessment.

The OSHA General Duty Clause and Workplace Violence Prevention

Posted on: February 4th, 2015

In this Blog Dr. Mike (Mike Atwater, Ph.D)  shares a perspective on the role of the Occupational Safety and Health Act’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause and workplace violence prevention. He and Felix collaborate in a small way to help keep the dialogue going in bridging the gap of awareness and responsibility.

“We recognize that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and invoke the need to be proactive rather reactive” in containing all costs.

The effort put forth in investing in “prevention” can enhance the outcome and reduce the negative impact of poor planning.  While we are not suggesting that using other people’s data is representative of what can happen at your workplace (school, college, university or healthcare setting), it is our desire to create urgency in understanding the impact to your workplace and workforce your employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all workers. According to OSHA’s fact sheet,Workplace violence is violence or the threat of violence against workers. It can occur at or outside the workplace and can range from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide, one of the leading causes of job-related deaths. However it manifests itself, workplace violence is a growing concern for employers and employees nationwide. Some 2 million American workers are victims of workplace violence each year.

Furthermore, domestic violence is the number one cause for emergency room visits by women in the United States, causing more injuries to women than car accidents, muggings, and rapes. Like other forms of violence, domestic violence may spill over into the workplace in various ways. Of all employed battered women, 96 percent experience problems at work and 75 percent must use work time to deal with their situation because they cannot do so at home.

“As a licensed clinical psychologist practicing for over 30 years in Florida”, Dr. Mike has worked with numerous clients to help them recover from workplace violence and/or spillover domestic violence. These clients can suffer a variety of consequences and mental health issues in addition to any possible physical injuries, including:

  • Short- and long-term psychological trauma
  • Fear of returning to work
  • Changes in relationships with coworkers and family
  • Feelings of incompetence, guilt, powerlessness
  • Fear of criticism by supervisors or managers

Because each case will present with varying degrees of problems, Dr. Mike draws upon a multi-disciplinary counseling approach to reduce the acute psychological trauma and general stress levels. With all, a major goal is to help them return to meaningful work and for the employer to have a healthy worker as well. While Dr. Mike does not have expertise in the regulations and programs needed to provide for safe workplaces, Dr. Mike does know employers must be proactively responsible to educate staff about workplace violence and to positively influence the workplace and organizational cultural norms in order to reduce the possibility of incidents.

The Threat of Workplace Violence Looms Mightily

Posted on: January 25th, 2015

Recent workplace and school shooting incidents underscore the importance of having current comprehensive workplace violence prevention and violence response policy and plans in place.  The unfortunate news coverage might have sensationalized the stories motivating workplace managers to deal with their workplace security realities prematurely or inappropriately.

We are finally coming to grips with the reality that workplaces are veritable lighting rods for violence.

If workplace senior leaders care and are concerned about providing for a safe and secure workplace, it requires their leadership,  and that they  understand the risk and respond appropriately in deploying supportive policies, plans and resources. Our response must not be reactionary incident to an active shooter to surface but measured against potential realities and organizational capabilities. Avoid a knee-jerk reaction to news media reports that really scare management to make  knee-jerk decisions that result in short-lived training that exposes the organization to other issues.

Dr. Robert F. Hester, Ph.D FBINA, Hester and Associates, Inc. on June 20, 2005 wrote an article entitled: Business Continuity for Small Businesses said, Safety, security and preparedness aren’t routinely a focus in our lives. Being on guard is not something Americans are used to or like doing. Still danger and the threat never goes away; only fades in memory.”

Is Dr. Hester in fact saying that our workplace security policies are like what we see in the African Plains where the Antelopes and the hungry Lions play this cat and mouse game? The Antelope senses, hears and sees the Lions attacking, they run for their lives only to return to grazing after the hungry Lions are feasting? Is that the mentality that drives the workplace security decision process? I do not think so but it makes me wonder what does.

Workplaces must not be quick to judge the misfortunes of others or what happens to other organizations in making hasty decisions without properly assessing and evaluating one’s unique workplace risks. Media interests in making news unintentionally directs the workplace security outcome through sensationalized reporting.  It can cause decision makers to under-value the real threat and the inherent risks. The threat of workplace violence looms mightily as a workplace security concern when poor communications, coordination and collaboration results in a shooting or suicide incident.  Waiting for an incident to occur before taking needed prevention measures contributes to poor morale, lowered production, performance and increased cost associated to victims and co-workers traumatized by the exposure and its memories and other related cost.

If the rationale is to let the media drive the urgency and discussion then the leadership is not being considerate of their realities and the potential for any employee to become a victim or predator. Workplace violence reflects a microcosm of our society tied directly to employee perceptions of their workplaces and their personal issues. Shortsighted initiatives that are more like window dressings lack substantive prevention effectiveness. The reality is that workplaces are veritable lightning rods for violence hence the position that  workplace violence looms mightily in every type of organization and educational setting. Our job is to minimize the risk through proactive prevention strategies and preparation of the workplace.

Minimizing risks requires taking proactive intervention strategies that includes a critical vulnerability assessment of your workplace security, violence prevention  & violence response procedures, physical security measures and workplace administrative and operation’s policies.

While reported shooting rampages have served to raise moral and ethical consciousness and concern, critical thinking and leadership are best desired in rolling out thoughtful workplace violence prevention initiatives. Workplaces must appreciate that unhappy employees don’t wake up one morning consumed with retaliation or getting even. NO, they don’t!!!  The escalation and movement towards homicidal retaliation probably started months earlier if not years earlier and the clues were missed or misunderstood, giving the appearance of negligent supervision and security.  Supervisors who do not examine their employee’s unique permanent and temporary work-sites cannot assess and evaluate the potential risk to their employees who might be exposed to autocratic supervision, toxic employees, and criminal elements.  

Sometimes workplace policies create misunderstandings when the workforce is taken for granted.  Don’t dismiss the possibility of the unintentional consequences of workplace policies contributing to conflict as a result of  employee interpretation and perceptions of the policies.  Supervisors and managers can play a leadership role by being proactive in “prevention” through swift intervention, communication and monitoring. Workplaces can show sensitivity to the fact that employees and non-employees are victims of changes in their family, medical, personal, financial and workplace relationships that are often exacerbated by workplace relationships. Disciplinary Action to include suspensions and terminations are not always the best solution but sometimes necessary. How they  are carried out will have inevitably have bearing on the employees or former employee’s psychology. 

Workplace violence prevention really requires a comprehensive view of workplaces and how best to integrate resources, collaborate strategies and coordinate efforts effectively in managing the potentially hostile workplace settings. (Developing Your Comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Policy/Plan http://klou.tt/nqurh3tsge5b )

Not wishing to rush to conclusions by questioning how effective or ineffective workplace violence prevention efforts might be, workplaces must review their policies and plans annually and take proactive measures to design an atmosphere where employees see the value of “prevention” through management’s commitment as an investment in their safety and security.  In arriving at a proactive methodology the objective is to integrate workplace violence prevention as a seamless “Human Resource Security Initiative”.  Workplaces must be critical of their capabilities and limitations by asking tough questions. We must not allow assumptions, convenience, expediency and expectations to dictate management’s decisions, attitudes and disposition. Inappropriate employee conduct (supervisors and managers alike) must be held accountable as part of building credibility and integrity in workplace violence prevention. To do so, we must ask the following questions:

  • Do we understand the risks?
  • Are we responding properly?
  • Do we monitor and track incidents, situations and people?
  • How could the incident happen?
  • What did we miss that could have prevented the outcome through care, consideration and attentiveness?
  • What did we take for granted and why?
  • How do we interact or fail to intervene?

As passionate workplace leadership, I know how devoted you are so, I do not presume or pretend I have the right answers but, would ask that senior leaders begin a process TODAY to critically assess and evaluate your respective workplace settings and situations to uncover unknown hazards and resolve known hazards and security gaps. Why wait to answer such questions tomorrow when posed by the media, OSHA or a jury?

Through proactive intervention policies and plans the workforce plays a role to enhance their “prevention capability”.  In other words the prevention effort acts as a force multiplier when the workforce understand the responsibilities, duties and the impact. Supervision, leadership, policy design and program development and documentation helps to substantiate and validate management’s commitment and fortifies employee trust and credibility in management’s ability to provide for a safe and secure workplace. Remember, having a physical security presence is part of the strategy but not the solution. But, conducting the critical vulnerability assessment can yield gaps that will allow workplaces to efficiently and effectively deploy security forces.

Putting the threat of workplace violence prevention in perspective at your workplace is important. That the number of horrific workplace related events occur infrequently, should not persuade senior leaders, risk managers or human resources to avoid having the discussion and applying appropriate protective measures.  There is a need to be prepared for the “WHEN” it happens rather than “IF”  it happens.  The phrase threat of workplace violence looms mightily means the threat can come from a variety of different threats that include; current employee, former employee, disgruntled customer, client, patient or student, opportunity criminal or the domestic/intimate partner violence spillover into the workplace. I will not scare readers with immaterial statistics not specific to your respective workplaces at this point but, I will implore you to take immediate action to improve your workplace security and workplace violence prevention posture TODAY.  It is my experience that workplace violence prevention has to become a human resources security mission.  Research shows that employer’s limited resources, misunderstanding of workplace violence prevention and a lack of technical competency may be the challenges encountered rather than a lack of will.  This list of reasons may suggest why?

  1. Denial in terms of we do not have a problem;
  2. It is resource intensive;
  3. Why invest in prevention when we can terminate;
  4. Time is of the essence;
  5. We lack the staff and support;
  6. Cost of training and NO ROI;
  7. The cost of hiring the consultant does not justify the expense.

These reasons however real, imagined or unrealistic to your situation have been chronicled in various surveys conducted by the Department of Labor, American Society of Safety Engineers, ASIS International, Pinkerton and a host of other lesser-known organizations since 1989.  Surveys point to a sense of urgency but a confusing investment and response that illustrates a misunderstanding of the potential threat and how best to deploy the resources.  Contrary to the commonly held beliefs by most that the topic of workplace violence does not affect my business and as such, it is not my problem can not be further from the truth. It affects people, property, premises and the bottom-line. (The Cost of Workplace Violence Prevention and Awareness http://klou.tt/uykyq1t6b8ji ).

As we close this topic, workplace violence continues to be a serious business security threat today facing the workplace ranking right along with Business Continuity/Business Interruption, Terrorism and Cyber and Computer Crimes.

 

Developing Your Comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Policy / Plan

Posted on: September 18th, 2014

Developing your organizational comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy and plan does not have to be a complicated or complex process or document. However, assumptions aside,  you must begin with the notion that every workplace can become an at risk setting and prior planning and preparation is key.  Therefore,  you must understand the type of workplace setting and its relevant risks. Such a process involves a risk or security assessment to help identify your work-site specific hazards, conditions and situations and potential risks to employees at whatever work-site they maybe performing their official duties at.  The policy and subsequent plan should not only address the employee on employee threat but the 4 categories of workplace violence in order to properly understand the risks and take appropriate mitigation measures. We know that workplace violence ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and homicide. Comprehensive efforts entail mitigation measures against current employee, former employees, criminals, patients, clients, vendors and even relationship violence and its workplace spillover.  OSHA defines the 4 categories as:

– Type I: Criminal Intent

Criminal intent workplace violence occurs when the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business usually while committing a crime and use of a deadly weapon to further their cause. These types of crimes occur in workplace settings where the employee handles cash, drugs or jewelry and other commodities. Taxi drivers, those who work at night, or who primarily work alone and other workplace settings where the employee engages the public are at greater risk from these perpetrators.  Supervisors are encouraged to conduct visual observations of all workplaces but particularly remote workplace settings on occasion to help employees identify and minimize their risks. Employees who travel from work-site to work-site to meet with clients or customers become vulnerable when they are not cognizant of their surroundings or let their guards down. 

– Type II: Customer/Client.

Customer/client workplace violence occurs when the perpetrator is a customer or client of the employee and attacks that employee or others.  The most common targets of customer/client workplace violence are school teachers, healthcare workers, social workers and public transportation operators.

– Type III: Employee-on-Employee.

Employee-on-employee workplace violence occurs when the employee attacks his or her co-worker(s). It is important to note that contrary to the media representation of such crimes that this category makes up a small percentage of all workplace violence.  We associate this behavior with a disgruntled employee who is exacts their violence at the workplace and its employee(s).  Usually conflict arises from an unresolved dispute or disagreement that escalates. Because these incidents involve supervisors and managers they are at greater risk of being victims of this category of workplace violence. As stated above, no workplace is immune from this category of workplace violence. It requires an ongoing effort involving multiple intervention strategies and proactive leadership and supervision.

– Type IV: Personal Relationship.

Personal relationship workplace violence occurs when the employee has a personal relationship with the perpetrator of violence.  This category is typified by domestic violence and/or what is commonly referred to as intimate partner violence.  Perpetrators of this type of violence are not typically employees or former employees. This is an area where workplaces might desire to pursue innovative approaches to mitigating risks. Workplaces might consider providing whatever assistance can be offered in creating a comfortable and supportive workplace setting.  I was once told by a victim whose husband assaulted her in the employee parking lot, “that had she felt comfortable and trusting of her supervisors perhaps better protective measures could have been introduced to secure the parking lot.” Employees who are victims of domestic violence or intimate partner violence should be encouraged to take appropriate measures and to inform their supervisors when the court issues any type of restraining order. Workplaces should not dismiss the potential risk associated by not taking proactive measures with this type of violence.  All too often unaware employees make assumptions that allow access to disgruntled persons that ultimately compromise workplace access controls. Protecting against the workplace violence spillover from this type of workplace violence is imperative and must be discussed and included in workplace violence prevention training.

While the OSHA Act (Occupational Safety and Health Act) has introduced stricter enforcement instructions to their enforcement personnel, workplaces must not wait around to be sanctioned. They can show initiative in implementing proactive workplace violence prevention and violence response risk mitigation procedures and plans.  Recently OSHA has sent a definite signal to workplaces that it is going after those blatant workplaces that fail to take corrective action in rectifying known hazards or risks that contribute to violence or place employees at risk of violence.

Companies that do not always have the dedicated resources should not consider themselves excused or immune from taking risk mitigation measures.  Regardless of the real or perceived limitations, comprehensive workplace violence prevention strategies can be enhanced by integrating, collaborating and coordinating resources in  maximizing the effort. This methodology allows for an organizational response by non-security personnel. The objective of a comprehensive workplace violence prevention initiative is to create an “early warning system” based on a unified process that aligns organizational resources in combating the threat of violence.  The idea is to develop holistic workplace violence prevention strategies, processes and methods that bridge the gap between confusion, myths, complex theories and practical applications for employees and supervisors in all organizations to feel comfortable relying on each other.  The goal is to be in a position to share information at the right levels tied to credible reporting and monitoring of employee reports, complaints and observations.  

Developing a comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy/plan starts with a senior management commitment and investment in workforce safety and security usually in the form of the policy and its support.  It requires undertaking a work-site specific analysis and establishing an accountable and credible reporting system. Employers should not wait to be surprised by a serious incident, they should analyze records and maintain good reporting records. To avoid assumptions and make correlations employers are encouraged to review past incident reports and even review employee complaints relative to the unintentional consequences of policy, supervision and decisions as contributing factors. Do not assume a particular departments, supervisor or manager and activities cannot be responsible for creating conflict or increasing tensions.  In short, the organizational culture is not immune from scrutiny if it can help in identify contributing factors in preventing workplace violence.

Considering your organizational capabilities and/or imitations, workplaces can be proactive in preventing workplace violence by enhancing physical security, visitor management and access controls. Risk mitigation measure can involve “engineering controls” to enhance physical security and access controls by attempting to remove workplace violence hazards or creating barriers between the worker and the hazard or threat. Examples of “engineering controls can include installation and maintenance of partitions, controlled entry and waiting areas, alarm systems, security devices, panic buttons, hand-held alarms and noise devices.  Alert, Notification and Communications systems play a significant role during a serious threat of workplace violence such as in the case of an armed intruder.  “Administrative controls” can also play a vital part in workplace violence prevention through the establishment of parameters, identifying responsibilities and establishing accountable behavior.  Deployment of uniform security personnel can be considered in certain situations.

In closing, a comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy and violence response initiative will never be realized without investing in proper and relevant initial and ongoing training for all employees, supervisors and managers. For maximum value, the topics and content should be audience specific.  Helping to make your workplace safer from the threat of a homicidal act of workplace violence requires that we dispel myths and prepare for the “when” and not the “if”.  We can improve our chances by creating a workplace where the employee is treated with regard from “hiring to firing”.  

Remember, that following a time of crisis your most trusted employees will always be the most credible witnesses.  Don’t put them in an uncomfortable position of making the choice.  A comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy/plan relies on organizational empowerment as part of an ongoing process of  responsibility, accountability, proper supervision and effective leadership.

Is Your Company Cognizant of the Mail Room Threat?

Posted on: August 24th, 2014

Security Consultant’s Perspective…

Regardless of your type of business, size or location, the threat of workplace violence and terrorism is all around us these days. It could involve you, your employees and your business at any time. Protective Measures seem a bit of theatrics yet failure to be vigilant or to exercise due diligence could result in a disaster or a civil suit. I believe protecting the workforce is a never-ending task of vigilance, awareness and training. Protecting the Mail Rooms and educating your workforce is all part of the workplace security process. All employees should be given a security awareness briefing on the topic of handling suspicious pieces of mail and Mail Room Security Procedures.

The Mail Room Threat…

The handling and processing of incoming mail today remains a businesses weakest point. Incoming mail is not routinely isolated as a matter or protective measures, delivery personnel are not being restricted from building access, employees may or may not know what to look for and what to do when handling suspicious packages or letters, there are no control points restricting access by all, and letters and packages to senior officers are not given extra precautionary attention. It is unlikely that mailroom employees are cleared, are familiar with basic security procedures or that they have been trained to recognize and handle suspicious packages and letters. The potential nightmare remains the lack of security awareness, the recognition of suspicious mail and what to look for and what to do.

Recommendations…

Supervisors and managers should insure that some form of security awareness be incorporated into the day-to-day operations. All employees should at a minimum know the basic mail handling security measures. It does not take much time to impart information to a group of employees using the “Stand-up Talk”, a technique used by the Postal Service very effectively to provide information to employees without disrupting the operations. Normally the “Stand-up Talk” lasts between 15 – 20 minutes. The “Stand-up Talks are quite an effective method of communications in this way.

What to do in case of a suspicious piece of mail…?

This area requires paying attention to details and discipline. If you notice a suspicious letter or package during routine mail handling or if you’ve received a piece of suspicious mail, take the following steps: don’t handle it, evacuate the premises but, certainly the area around the piece and do follow your security plan by notifying supervisors and the appropriate emergency service personnel listed in the security plan.

The Cost of Workplace Violence Prevention and Awareness

Posted on: July 27th, 2014

The Threat of Violence is On the Rise…

A safe and productive workplace is in everyone’s interest, but the number of violent acts, including threats of violence, has increased over 400% over the last decade. Workplace Violence Prevention and Education initiatives are paramount before an incident happens, saving businesses considerable time, resources in addition, legal fees, but most importantly, the implementation of mandatory changes to the workplace to protect employees from any future threat of a violent act. It is important to note that when experts refer to violent acts, they are referring to acts of violence by employees and criminal predators that commit armed robberies or assault employees while on the job.

Reality Hitting Home…

OSHA & NIOSH Statistics show that the risk of being attacked while working is seven times greater in the U.S. than in Europe. Did you know that the number of managers killed has doubled over the past 10 years. Moreover, that only 40-50% of workforce victims report crime to the police. The threat of Workplace Violence has proven to be a challenge, it can occur internally (co-workers, self-inflicted) and externally (customer/employee, domestic violence, robbery/assault/rape) and can be physical or non-physical. Recent trends suggest that places of work are now the victims of domestic and international terrorist demands.

The Hidden Cost of Workplace Violence…

  • Organizational effectiveness, productivity, the culture and image are adversely impacted by a violent act at work including:
  • Lost work time (average of 3.5 days per incident for those
  • directly impacted);
  • Increased security and facilities repair costs;
  • High probability of litigation; increased workers compensation claims & costs;
  • Increased medical claims; Personnel turnover;
  • Increased incidents of stress between labor organizations and management, significantly reduced performance & productivity & Negative internal and external publicity & press are but a few symptoms of the hostile workplace.

Personnel turnover is deeply rooted in an employee’s unwillingness to be perceived as a troublemaker and resigns or asks for a reassignment rather than complaining. Such personnel turnovers are a company’s worst nightmare, as they will undoubtedly volunteer to testify against the employer in the aftermath.

No one knows the exact dollar figure associated to workplace violence related exposure. Such costs are absorbed in increased medical and injury compensation claims under other unrelated ailments related to a workplace violence exposure. In this category might be the victims of harassment, verbal abuse and other forms of non-physical assaultive behavior but victims of psychological assault.