The Threat of Workplace Violence Looms Mightily

Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

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.