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Recent events spur call for better anti-violence workplace training

workplace violence

A surge of employees heading back to the office following pandemic shutdowns, combined with a spike in shootings and other violence affecting workers, is causing companies to revamp emergency plans or initiate anti-violence training, according to experts.

The issue – especially recently — has “gotten a lot more attention,” said Christine Sullivan, Glastonbury, Connecticut-based president-elect of the American Society of Safety Professionals and senior vice president, risk control services director, for Sompo International Risk Control Services.

And while the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires workplaces to have emergency action plans, falling under the catch-all General Duty Clause that requires employers to provide a safe place to work, it’s not uncommon for employers to not have adequate strategies in place for such situations as violence, experts say.

“I think a lot of people are surprised to find out and to hear that many companies don’t have a comprehensive workplace violence policy ... and when I say comprehensive I’m referring to more than just a sentence or paragraph in a manual or in online company training that says workplace violence is not going to be tolerated,” said Steve Cocco, a Phoenix-based special security consultant with Rimkus Consulting Group Inc., which provides anti-workplace violence training.

One of the first steps is a hazard assessment, according to Michael Johnson, CEO of the Clear Law Institute, which provides online training for employers on active shooters and other workplace violence.

“This is a security analysis of the specific worksite,” he said. “Let's say you're in a retail setting, you need to evaluate what the potential risk (is) that we may be able to minimize; sometimes it’s physical changes by adding alarms, adding panic buttons.” Safe evacuations are another area to analyze, he said.

The analysis should be followed by documentation, training and practice, he added. 

Ms. Sullivan said, “It's being prepared and making sure you've got the plans in place and making sure you've got the training.”

One area where employers often seem to fall behind is identifying threats.

A recent webinar by human resources consultant Axiom Medical Consulting Inc. addressed red flags and whether acts of violence in the workplace can be predicted.

Some instances of violence are predictable, according to co-presenter Les Kertay, senior vice president of behavioral health with Axiom Medical in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“With some behavioral observations we can see people begin to deteriorate, and often it will be amenable to mental health treatment,” he said. “Predatory violence is typically well-planned. It's carefully thought out and usually telegraphed — not always but usually. … People let folks know that they're thinking about this kind of violence.”

Mr. Johnson said “behaviors of concern” need more attention. For some “it just may not occur that an issue could become a workplace violence issue.” He cited as an example “domestic violence that an employee may be experiencing that that could spill over into the workplace.”

Reporting dangers is another issue employers face.

The employer has to make sure that the enterprise has a no-fear policy,” Mr. Cocco said.

That means those who are threatened by a co-worker, contractor or someone else who has workplace access “should have zero fear of retaliation” from the employer, he said.