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More firms ban guns at work as violent outbreaks continue

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Ride-sharing service Uber Technologies Inc. has joined a host of other companies banning guns amid rising business and workplace violence, but the effectiveness of such bans is being questioned.

In its June announcement, Uber cited safety and comfort concerns for its ban on “possessing firearms of any kind in a vehicle. Any rider or driver found to have violated this prohibition may lose access to the Uber platform,” Uber said in a statement.

Uber did not respond to requests for further comment. Reportedly, it made the decision a week prior to the mass shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, last month.

“Uber is just the latest in a long list of businesses that have instituted bans or restrictions on the presence of firearms in their place of business,” said Robert Hartwig, New York-based president of the Insurance Information Institute Inc. “They are not likely to be the last, but it is unlikely to have a significant effect on the number of shootings in the United States.”

Mass public shootings have become more frequent with larger casualty numbers, according to the FBI. Some 753 workers were killed as a result of violence in 2013, according to the latest figures from Department of Labor, including 397 homicides. And though that's down from 475 homicides in 2012, shootings were the most frequent cause of death.

While companies including Costco Wholesale Corp., Ikea A.B., California Pizza Kitchen Inc. and Starbucks Corp. ask that customers and employees not bring guns into their establishment, companies such as Home Depot Inc. do allow customers to bring guns into stores.

Home Depot feels it is the “right approach,” a company spokesman said, adding that “it most closely aligns with the local regulations set by the community; usually elected officials.”

With Illinois becoming the last state to allow the concealed carry of firearms two years ago, many businesses and employers have added signs banning firearms from their operations and workplaces. Experts, however, say more is needed.

“If people are concerned because someone is making threats, there needs to be a way of reporting it; the company needs to have a way of assessing that threat and there needs to be a team of resources in place to take appropriate action,” said Susan Morton, Boston-based senior vice president of the reputational risk and crisis management practice at Marsh Risk Consulting.

“Remember to think broadly,” Ms. Morton said. “An active shooter isn't necessarily an employee. It could be a spouse, a partner, someone's friend. Take the blinders off.”

Having a “weapons policy is important, but not mutually exclusive; we need … a complete program that looks at prevention (training), management and crisis response,” said Sean Ahrens, Chicago-based security consulting practice leader at Aon Global Risk Consulting.

Training employees, such as receptionists or security guards, to deal with a determined aggressor often is overlooked in crisis management training, he said. If a receptionist can communicate effectively that someone dangerous is in the facility, it helps speed the response of law enforcement and better limit injuries or deaths.

Gunfire detection and location technology provider SST Inc. argues that even training and preparation are not enough.

“Insurers are providing training to their clients in how to mitigate shooter risk, but having the technology that can assist with that is a direct corollary to having a fire evacuation plan as well as a fire alarm and a fire suppressant system,” said Damaune Journey, vice president of the Newark, California-based company. “These events are happening more frequently, and they're becoming less predictable.”

“Unless you have a metal detector, how can you know if someone is carrying a handgun? I agree that we should have these no-gun policies, but I think the underlying cause has to do with the person's well-being and mental health,” said Eddy Canavan, Riverside, California-based vice president of the workers compensation practice at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.

“Employers can take the opportunity to educate their employees in recognizing mental health signals in others, which may avoid an issue in the workplace,” Mr. Canavan said. “We have 61 million Americans that have experienced mental illness in any 12-month period; one in seven has severe mental disorders, some that go widely unrecognized. For example, the Germanwings co-pilot who took the plane down — could an employer prevent that from happening?” he said.

“I'm not sure we do enough to really understand the individual. We wait for them to have the problem and then address it,” he said.

While no factor in preventing gun violence at work is foolproof, “insurance is going to be brought into play whether there was a gun policy or not” when an incident does occur, Mr. Hartwig said.

While the concern should always be for the victims, “at the end of a tragedy there is a financial toll that is felt by the victims, their families, the employers and the insurers,” Mr. Journey said. “If a gunfire detection technology alerted people on-site, fewer people would get injured, more lives would be spared, the company would have fewer claims to manage and insurance companies would have fewer settlements to pay out.”

Mr. Journey said SST hasn't fully priced its gunfire detection system, adding that it will be less expensive than a fire alarm.

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