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When the worst happens: Responding to violence at work

When the worst happens: Responding to violence at work

PHILADELPHIA — A review of headlines from the past year paints a grim picture for workplace violence: Shootings, robberies, suicides and domestic disputes.

Workplace violence is a sign of the times, and employers in every industry need to better prepare for what to do before, during and after an event, according to experts at a Monday session at the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. conference in Philadelphia.

A show of hands in a conference room of about 50 risk managers and other attendees painted an even grimmer picture for preparedness: Only two people raised their hands when a panelist asked who of them knew exactly what to do in the event of an emergency in the workplace.

Just before her question, Dr. Teresa Bartlett, Troy, Michigan-based senior vice president of medical quality for third-party administrator Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc., mentioned the theme of this year’s RIMS conference “disruption” as a starting point for discussion.

“That’s really the exact opposite of what we want to talk about,” she said. “We hope to help you re-establish normalcy and the status quo after a big crisis in the workplace.”

Paired with panelist Jill Brooks, Dallas-based director of risk and claims for liquor store chain OK Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits L.L.C., Dr. Bartlett told attendees the best thing a risk manager can do to get the workplace back to normal after to tragedy is to make it a normal practice to prepare for the worst.

Ms. Brooks, whose career spans risk management for retailers, restaurants and more, gave attendees suggestions of what to do in the event of a tragedy, with catastrophe modeling high on the list.

Some other key components in preparing include assigning a crisis management person for each area or floor of the building, ensuring a company has proper equipment to assist individuals with disabilities, designing escape routes and installing bulletproof glass in some areas.

Dr. Bartlett also mentioned tabletop exercises, creating scenarios on a table and working with employees to plan what to do and where to go, and studying deficiencies from there.

“The key is to practice and to know,” she said. Both panelists also stressed the importance of involving local law enforcement in planning.

Ms. Brooks discussed post-traumatic stress disorder as a common workers compensation claim arising from workplace violence and said the best approach for employers is advocacy.

Yet sometimes advocacy won’t be enough, she said.

“If someone has PTSD and they can’t come back to the workplace, then you want to exit them out of the workplace gracefully,” she said.

Dr. Bartlett emphasized the need to visit with workers post-incident and work within their needs. “There’s a huge mental health component to a major event,” she said.

“You need to talk about it, debrief about it: How will we get back to something that will be normal?” Dr. Bartlett said, adding that some workers are more resilient than others and that an organization that confronts the issue is more likely to survive.

“You want your company to be the company that can come back from crisis,” she said.


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