Safeguarding Your Company from Workplace Violence

An ABC news article quoted Dr. Paul Ragan, senior consulting psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s department of psychiatry, who stated, “Suicides and violence can increase in economic hard times. If anybody talks about an experience where they’ve been humiliated and they have feelings about it, it needs to be taken seriously. The workplace is often a source of disappointment, and is the unfortunate recipient of the person’s rage.”

While there’s no way to guarantee that your company will be 100% safe, there are several measures that can dramatically reduce your risk factor:

1. Educate your managers and supervisors: There’s no substitute for realistic, hands-on training. It’s important that you teach your key people how to recognize and respond to the early warning signals of trouble that normally precede an act of violence.

Training should also include role-playing scenarios where managers and supervisors are given the opportunity to temporarily put themselves into the mindset of the participants.

2. Conduct comprehensive background investigations on new hires: Companies should require new workers to undergo a background investigation. Looking into an individual’s history can uncover convictions for assault, manslaughter, rape or homicide. Equally important would be criminal convictions for carrying an unlicensed firearm.

3. Perform pre-employment and probable cause drug testing: As mentioned earlier, workers predisposed to acts of violence can be pushed over the edge if they use drugs or alcohol at work. Train your managers to look for physiological symptoms or impaired work performance.

Additionally, be attentive to the actions of parties involved in an argument after the encounter appears to have subsided. If one of the participants has a few drinks or uses drugs during lunch, they may return to work seeking revenge.

One of our clients nearly lost an employee when another worker returned from break under the influence of alcohol. The two workers had been arguing. However, the shift supervisor thought he had put an end to it after separating and verbally warning both employees. While at a local restaurant during lunch break, one of the participants worked himself into a frenzy while consuming several drinks and discussing his earlier confrontation with the co-worker.

He returned to work and attacked the other employee from behind with a hunting knife, repeatedly stabbing him. The injuries put the employee into intensive care for weeks and nearly cost him his life.

4. Set up an effective Hotline program: Offering your work force a means to communicate potential problems can be an invaluable tool. However, it’s only going to work if your employees feel completely comfortable using it.

It’s unrealistic to expect concerned employees to use the company “open-door” policy to report a co-worker who has, for example, a semiautomatic handgun in his locker or car. The average worker will be justifiably concerned that their tip will be leaked and find its way to the perpetrator, who will then seek revenge on him or her.

However, if employees have a safe, risk-free option available, many will take advantage of it.

5. Establish formal procedures for reporting incidents: Make certain that your managers and supervisors understand the importance of communicating a potential problem. All too often, key personnel will witness a dispute where one or several parties make threats. However, because no altercation occurred at that moment, the incident is downplayed and dismissed. A supervisor may wrongfully assume that he permanently diffused the hostility.

This is a mistake, because in many of these cases, there is a delayed reaction and serious injuries are subsequently sustained by one or more of the participants. If a provoked or drug-induced employee subsequently attacks a co-worker hours, days or even weeks after an initial incident, the company may be found liable.

Threats should never be taken lightly. Formal company guidelines should be established that require any form of threat to be documented and reported to the human resources, legal and/or loss prevention departments.

6. Establish proper procedures: Examples include:

• After a worker has been terminated, especially if the separation takes place under less than amicable circumstances, formal notification should be immediately given to those who oversee access to the building or grounds, such as uniformed guards, receptionists and shift managers.

• Electronic access cards, as well as IT network passwords and alarm codes should be promptly voided. Emergency call lists should be modified to reflect the change of employment status.

If exterior door keys are not electronic and cannot be voided via PC, or if the keys are the type that could be easily duplicated, the locks should be immediately changed.

Preferably, these steps should be implemented within minutes of the individual’s departure. In many cases where a serious injury has been inflicted or a death has occurred, companies failed to complete these tasks in a timely manner and allowed an unnecessary window of opportunity to exist.

• Eliminate uncontrolled entrances to the building.

In many facilities, anyone can enter the reception area or interior door(s) leading to company offices. To control access, an electronic strike should be installed on either the exterior or interior door(s) [depending on traffic flow and building layout].

It’s a good idea to equip the receptionist or warehouse office with a concealed, silent panic button (similar to what bank tellers have at their work stations) for summoning immediate assistance in the event of a life threatening situation.

In a distribution environment, it’s commonplace to find metal entrance doors without windows used by employees, truckers or service personnel. Workers become accustomed to opening a locked door whenever someone knocks or rings a bell, claiming to be an employee who may have forgotten their access card, or a contractor having legitimate business there.

One distributor lost hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory and had several employees pistol whipped when an employee allowed access to intruders claiming to be a late arriving truck driver. After opening the entrance door to the warehouse one evening, the crew was held at gun point while the intruders loaded a tractor trailer with inventory.

Install a closed circuit television camera and intercom outside warehouse entrance doors so proper verification can be made prior to opening the door. Also, implement a formal policy that controls access times and establishes proper means for outsiders to validate themselves with proper identification.

• Equip supervisory and uniformed security personnel who normally roam throughout the warehouse with wireless panic buttons as well as radio units, so they can instantly communicate with each other as well as the alarm company central station in the event of a serious threat.

• Make certain that employee parking areas are well lighted. In high crime areas, lots should be fenced and there should be emergency call stations strategically located where employees park their vehicles. During nighttime hours, or if an employee has reason to believe they may be the target of a violent act, provide an escort to the employee’s vehicle.