Workplace Violence – A Reality of Real Proportions

Archive for the ‘Workplace Safety’ Category

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 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 )

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 ).

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.


Workplace Security: Are You Any Safer At Work From Terrorism?

Posted on: September 14th, 2014


  1. The Security Consultant’s Perspective…
  2. The Insider Threat…
  3. Threats by the Outsiders…
  4. The Terrorist Threat…
  5. Protective Measures…

1) Security Consultant’s Perspective…

Traditional techniques at combating Workplace Violence pits the disgruntled employee against the system and the potential victims in a waiting game. It seems that the “Inside Threat” is reduced to monitoring the known potential, the “Ticking Bomb”, while the unknown threats go unmonitored. Threats by “Outsiders” are just as common and equally violent. Complicating this challenge, we now must grapple with the threat of terrorism (political and domestic) in our workplaces. I am reminded of a quote by James Baldwin from his book, “The Price of the Ticket”. “No one can possibly know what is about to happen: it is happening, each time, for the first time, for the only time”. Fighting the potential workplace threat requires a change in tactics and training techniques in order to be proactive.

2) The Insider Threat…

The “going postal” employee is as real in many workplaces as was the case of the rash of Postal Service incidents that gave rise to the phrase by the media. The difference between the postal employee and the ConAgra Shooting, Kansas (July 2004), the DaimlerChrysler Shooting, Ohio (January 2005) and the Weequaic High School Shooting, Newark, NJ (July 2005) North Toledo was the lack of sensationalized media coverage. I have found that career employees who “go postal” did not plan to do so over night, nor was he predisposed to kill employees. It was a series of gradual events in the employee’s life brought about by changes in personal relationships, a diagnosed medical condition perceived unjust or a caustic domestic situation gone awry given rise to violence aggression as a form of retaliation at home and the workplace.

The environmental, societal factors and contributing events could not have been more apparent to the trained eye. Perpetrators of workplace violence are victims of their environment because they did not plan their rampage the first day hired. It was a gradual process with changes which bought about behaviors, attitudes and methodical planning clearly evident by the employee’s daily interactions, physical appearance, verbal utterances and documented slips in performance and efficiency. Everybody can see the indicators in the aftermath but most do not understand how to collaborate to prevent the “Ticking Bomb” from exploding before it is too late.

The Threat Assessment Process though intrusive in some quarters is an instrumental process worthy of attention. Subtle but contributory changes in an employee’s demeanor can be detected with early warning signs to provide assistance and intervention. This response unlike the threat posed by “The Outsider” is manageable (predictable)and preventable.

3) Threats By Outsider…

Confrontational crimes committed by “Outsiders” though unmanageable can be mitigated and somewhat preventable. Take the following incidents. A nurse who works at a hospital who tells a horrific story of being punched, kicked, scratched, bitten, nose and ribs broken, stabbed with a pen and suffered eye damage all as a nurse at the hospital are true incidents. He also testified that patients have assaulted his co-workers. This account represents one of several hundred such incidents at hospitals in our Nation yearly. A storekeeper who confronted an armed robber was shot because he did not have enough money. You stop your car at a client’s business and exchange what you need between the car’s compartment and the trunk and return to discover the trunk broken into and the goods stolen? How about the lurking perpetrator who finds the pleasure in attacking helpless victims between floors on the stairwell or on the elevator? But nothing is worst than the unsuspecting medical service provider who is confronted by a client in his home or the office helpless to defend himself without any insight into appropriate protective measures.

These are situational accounts of innocent employees, victims of their unique situations created by their workplace environments and the threats posed by “Outsiders”.

4) The Terrorist Threat…

Though much attention has been given the political terrorist, little is mentioned in the workplace about our homegrown terrorists. The political terrorist who assimilates into the fabric of America to await the “call to arms”, is much different than the “normal” employee who harbors outward political, social and religious positions but, is protected by freedom of speech that permits the employee to maintain antithetical positions for the safety and security of the workplace. Our workplaces are full of ideologies that spawn terrorism; Para-military and militia groups, white supremacist groups, black hate groups; those who believe in extreme defense of the unborn, even environmentalist who work on the fringes of the law have spawned eco-terrorists, defenders of animal rights have attacked furriers and researchers and religious sects have spawned “holy warriors” who attack commercial and cultural interest. Similar to both of these groups they choose targets of value and opportunity. Unlike the “Insider” and the “Outsider”, the criminal behaviors of the domestic terrorist advertise their moves and are predictable because they are known and apparent.

5) Proactive Measures…

In no particular order: Train your leaders in Threat Assessment, Synchronize the security process with other departments, Structure personnel security procedures, Design a unique security policy, Plan and Test your emergency evacuation plans, implement strategy to prevent and interdict workplace violence by all, Limit & restrict access, Issue a suitable form of identification with photograph, Teach crime prevention and have desktop exercises and scenarios, test your crisis communications plan, run periodic background checks on all employees and establish a reporting policy to encourage early identification of potential perpetrators.

Why Every Employer Should Take Domestic Violence Seriously

Posted on: September 11th, 2014

The following is a post by one of our guest writers, Nancy Salamone, founder and CEO of The Business of Me

Domestic Violence Goes To Work

When a victim of domestic violence is employed – domestic violence goes to work and every employer pays the price. Yet at least 70% of employers do not have policies or procedures in place to address this serious workplace violence issue.

Many employers believe that domestic violence is a private family matter – it is not. Domestic violence affects the safety and security all employees. Employers who do not take this workplace violence issue seriously put the lives of all employees at risk and expose the company to major liability claims.

If you set aside the altruistic reasons to help employees who are victims of domestic violence here are some of the actual ways it affects your bottom line.

Lost productivity

The cost of domestic violence in the U.S. is estimated to be $8.3 billion each year (based on a study done in 2004 and to my knowledge has never been updated) most of which is borne by U.S. employers. That $8.3 billion today is still widely reported as the entire cost of domestic violence in our society. But how is that possible when the cost to businesses in the U.K. in lost productivity alone is £12 billion (in U.S. dollars $19,604,243) a year? Let’s look at some facts:

The U.S. working population is approximately 5 times that of the U.K. so it does not make sense that the cost of domestic violence in the U.S. is so much less than the U.K. The £12 billion reflects only lost productivity while the $8.3 billion includes medical care, mental health services AND lost productivity.

Increased Medical Cost

The health care costs of domestic violence, most of which is borne by the employer, are extremely high, with direct medical and mental health care services for victims over $4 billion dollars annually.