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ATLANTA-Risk managers can play a key part in stopping workplace violence and should be included in any corporate strategy to head off those incidents, a security expert says.
In our company, the risk manager is very involved in helping prevent workplace violence, said Thomas J. Lekan, senior vp and director of corporate security at KeyCorp Management Co., a Cleveland-based bank holding company. "He talks to us about what we should be looking at, what kinds of coverage, is this a risk we should assume and why should we assume it?"
Speaking as a panelist at a session during the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc. conference in Atlanta, Mr. Lekan pointed out that risk managers should work closely with security, human resources and other departments to help stem violence in the workplace.
"I think human resources people bring just what their name says-the human part of it," said Mr. Lekan. "They kind of control people like us in security and say, 'Hey, you're going too far with this, and we need to think about the people,'" when putting in security controls.
Legal personnel have to be on the team as well, Mr. Lekan stressed. While protecting workers is the top priority, the company needs to be aware of what kinds of litigation could result if someone is injured or killed in a violent act at work.
KeyCorp also has a medical director who can be an asset in preventing workplace violence, Mr. Lekan said. That person can be a help in situations where "we've got a guy on the second shift across the street who talks about receiving signals from Mars every night and we're kind of worried about him."
The medical director can provide input on how to deal with such behavior, "and they do help," Mr. Lekan added.
The team needs a "senior management sponsor," he said, who can in some situations make the difference in whether an incident occurs or is prevented. That person can provide quick approval to use the corporate plane, for example, if members of the security team have to travel to a distant location where trouble is brewing.
Preventing workplace violence begins with the hiring process, according to Mr. Lekan. It also helps to know the background of employees being fired to understand whether other stresses in their lives could help trigger violence, he said.
Another panelist agreed that the hiring process is a loss prevention tool that can be used to prevent violence.
The hiring process is "where that first step starts in preventing workplace violence," said S. Patrick King, branch manager with American Protective Services Inc., a contract security services provider in Jacksonville, Fla. "If there are truly those types of personalities that make it through the workaday world by being the bully, the intimidator, then don't let them in your business if you can find out about them and get them out as quickly as you can once you learn who they are."
Hiring techniques must be thorough to the point of grueling, according to Mr. Lekan.
Guards who work for his company must successfully complete an eight-hour psychological test that will reveal whether the applicant could competently handle a firearm if faced with a situation that required use of a weapon.
If the test reveals that the person can "maybe" perform well in such a situation, the candidate is not hired, Mr. Lekan noted.
He said prospective workers in highly technical positions must be carefully screened because people in those fields have shown tendencies toward violence when they lose their jobs. "I don't know if it's a result of the job" or other factors, but those employees are "very susceptible to this violence," he said.
When hiring for those positions or others that show a history of workplace violence, some unconventional interview techniques could be used, Mr. Lekan suggested.
"What would be wrong with adding to the hiring process meeting that person at a restaurant, meeting that person at home to find out what they're really like?" he asked.
"I personally think we should get into a person's home. When you see their family and their family's reaction to that person, you can tell a lot about them."
"What ifs" are good tests to use in the interview process, he said. Candidates should be asked, for example, "What would you do if one of your subordinates told you to go to hell? What would you do if one of your subordinates embarrassed you in front of other people?"
Responses often are candid and surprising, he said.
Managers at Mr. Lekan's company are trained to look for signs of potential trouble among workers being terminated. If management knows a worker being let go has domestic or financial problems or has indicated an inability to control anger, security is notified.
"I need to know that so I can do the proper countermeasures" Mr. Lekan said. "I'm going to go and do records checks. We're allowed to do that, to look into employees' records," which could reveal clues to how a person might react to being terminated.
Such measures might seem radical, almost "Big Brother" in nature, according to Mr. King. But when a company has a violent episode, "all of a sudden those kinds of actions aren't so radical anymore."
That doesn't mean employers have to resort to underhanded tactics to keep the workplace safe from violence, he stressed. They should make sure any steps used to prevent violence are "legally, morally, ethically correct," Mr. King said. "Don't ever cross the line."
John B. Hughes, director of risk management at Alex Lee Inc. in Hickory, N.C., moderated and coordinated the session.