The Greatest Workplace Violence Threat to Employees is Denial

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All too often in working with clients after an episode of workplace violence, we hear: “I never believed it could happen here.” Or:

“Our employees are family, they would never hurt each other.”

“We have solid security. We can handle any threat.”

Everyone must have an understanding not only of what can go wrong, but that it can go wrong in every organization anywhere, including yours, today.

While we do need to understand the warning signs and how to report behaviors of concern; and while there must be documented policies related to hostile workplace, weapons, bullying and more, none of these approaches and processes mean anything if we are in denial.

On April 10 of this year in Coral Gables, Florida, a terminated employee shot and killed two managers at a Florida gym before turning the gun on himself. He had just been fired from the fitness center for workplace violence.

The Miami-Dade Police Department said in a statement that 33-year-old Abeku Wilson of Miami was let go Saturday as a fitness trainer at the Equinox gym in Coral Gables “due to workplace violence and was escorted off the premises.” Authorities didn’t elaborate on what that violence involved.

Shortly after his dismissal, Wilson returned to the gym with a handgun and fired multiple shots at both managers before fatally shooting himself.

Could this scenario happen at your workplace?

On Feb. 25, Cedric Ford, 38, killed three people and injured others in a shooting spree that started along a highway near his home and ended inside Excel Industries in Hesston, where he worked. Ford was shot and killed by police.

Ford had been served a protection order from his girlfriend at work earlier that day.

The autopsy shows Ford was under the influence of high levels of methamphetamine and alcohol at the time of the mass shootings.

Could this scenario happen at your workplace?

Last month in St. Louis, a gunman opened fire on a Laclede Gas crew working in the city’s Hamilton Heights neighborhood, killing two men in a bizarre attack before shooting and killing himself on April 20, 2017.

Could this scenario happen at your workplace?

On May 11, 2017 in Jefferson County, Georgia, an attack occurred at the Jefferson County Hospital.

The sheriff’s office said the 911 center received a call around 3:25 p.m. for assistance from a visitor at Jefferson Hospital on Peachtree Street in Louisville, Georgia. The caller said a man with a gun was inside the hospital in the area of the lab threatening to harm his ex-girlfriend.

Officers from the Louisville Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched immediately. Upon arrival, the Chief of the Louisville Police Department observed the suspect forcing a 44-year-old female at gunpoint from the hospital to the employee parking lot. The suspect was identified as Geoffrey Rowland, 48, of the 600 block of East Walker Street in Wrens, Georgia.

The Chief approached Rowland, who was armed with a semi-automatic handgun, as he was trying to force the female into a vehicle while physically assaulting her. The Chief said Rowland threatened to kill the victim, the Chief and himself. Another Louisville Police Officer arrived and used a taser to incapacitate Rowland long enough to make him drop his weapon and get him restrained.

Both the victim and Rowland were taken into the emergency room for treatment. Rowland was released and is currently being held in the Jefferson County Jail. The victim was admitted to the hospital for observation.

These organizations are exactly like yours: whether you are a manufacturer, white-collar office, medical facility, retail establishment…we all have a unique environment and risks specific to our facility, our people, and our culture.

The greatest disservice we can do to our employees, their families and our community is to deny the potential for an act of violence to occur.

The first step in any workplace violence program that has greater potential to succeed is not to create a program with check-box compliance, but rather to create one that involves every member of the organization; from the Chairman to the part-timer – all have an equal stake in the outcome of belonging to a culture of preparedness.

June 2017 London Bridge Vehicle Attack

It’s not Just About Training

When you think about active shooter training, awareness, acceptance and preparation must not be the only topics of discussion; the impacts an active shooter incident may have on your organization must also be taken into consideration. Although not every crisis can be prevented, measures can be taken at the corporate, organizational and personal levels before an event arises. You have control over certain aspects of every crisis.

The scope of active shooter training should also include the use of other deadly weapons. Recent world events have brought the issue of deadly weapons to the forefront, including the increasing use of vehicles in attacks. Unfortunately, these events are expanding the concept of deadly weapons past that of only firearms. We have witnessed attacks using knives, lighter fluid, heavy vehicles and other deadly weapons. An active shooter plan must be all-inclusive to be successful.

Insurance Can Help You See Your Way Out of the Denial Box

Insurance assets and resources are available. Inquiries regarding Acts of Violence insurance have spiked. Organizations of all types are curious and concerned about having proper insurance in place and the proper response to help eliminate or mitigate any act of violence.

Risk managers are coming out of denial and are now beginning to question “how do we know if we’re ready?” Current events within and outside of the insurance industry alter what is being looked at within existing policies. Today, those current events are acts of violence. The insurance industry is reacting because the only way to manage these rising risks is to create a different entity to handle the risks.

Companies, like McGowan Program Administrators (MPA), are shifting back to mono-lined, named policies that specifically name risks (active shooter, deadly weapon protection, etc.) and provide specific, named-peril coverages.

As you look back at specific violent events; the events that unfold are similar to an airline accident and the standard operating procedures. Mayhem and disorder ensue on scene, funeral arrangements are handled and crisis counseling is provided. The combination of a crisis management, or CRISIS COACH®, program, coupled with the funding mechanism of insurance allows enterprise-level response to happen in a much smaller setting.

Is the Problem of Violence Increasing?

Certainly, the concern of violence is increasing and we see this voiced in traditional, social and new media. Are we becoming desensitized because concerns are publicized everywhere? Or is it, in fact, an increasing phenomenon?

Concerns are increasing. An easy place to measure the number of shootings, unfortunately, is in schools. In the last decade, we have seen a very dramatic increase in school violence.

In the United States, we do not adequately deal with those with diagnosed or undiagnosed mental disorders. Today, persons with mental disorders may be subjected to continual bombardment of negative messages or message misconception on television, cell phones, laptops and tablets. Information and reports of violence are being pushed at them repeatedly. This includes coverage of events occurring at the local, national and global levels. This coverage may increase agitation.

It is important to recognize that within any group of employees, statistically, there is a fair likelihood there are people who have life challenges that include substance abuse, under- or over- medication, diagnosed or undiagnosed mental illness and other issues that can affect the work environment and quality of life of the employee. The likelihood that any employer may witness some type of a violent event in the workforce is rising on a fairly regular basis.Disaster Denial Notebook

From a regulatory standpoint, OSHA and other regulators expect employers to identify and understand these exposures. There is an expectation that you are going to have to act to mitigate risks – including workplace violence, active shooters and uses of deadly weapons.

As statistics are analyzed, we must focus on the fact that every crisis is a human crisis. The worst event that you will see is the crisis that occurs at your office or place of work.

Are you Ready to Respond?

Firestorm surveyed about 1000 companies and one question: “does your organization have a documented and trained program to identify behaviors of concern before violence?” was enlightening.

More than half of respondents (about 500 companies) said they did not have a plan.

That is not lack of resources or lack of bandwidth. That is Denial.

Our second question, “what training did you receive,” indicated that 71 percent said they had received no training.

If half of respondents indicated no plan was in place at their workplace and nearly 75 percent had no training, we should not be surprised that workplace violence exists and creates significant concern.

Where do we start?

Start with a focus on prevention – which includes Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment (BeRThA®). Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment is the process by which we can educate people as to what the warning signs are that a person may exhibit; a person who could be on a path to violence. These warning signs can appear years before an act of violence. Providing employees a way to report what they see, including anonymously, is crucial. Many employees do not want to become directly involved in an issue.

Related: Download the Brief: Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment – How do you stop bullying, suicide and guns before it’s too late?

If employers can provide a way for employees to report suspicious activity anonymously, those reports will increase. Once an anonymous reporting program is in place, a group of designated individuals in the workplace (who have been trained with skills on how to investigate a report and screen a person) is needed.

The goal is to make sure the weapon never enters the workplace. An overall, full workplace violence program is a function of several components that should be viewed as critical.

We also receive many inquiries from people stating: “we just want active shooter training.” This request is only a small fraction of active shooter preparedness.

Are you trying to disarm someone with a gun? Are you trying to figure out how to protect at that moment in time? Would you like to know how to avoid that position and would you like to know how to care for your people after?

Preparedness is a much broader issue than just ‘active shooter training.’ One must understand the culture of an organization and understand and accept that something could happen.

Statistically, the likelihood that any organization will be subjected to an active shooter event is relatively small.

Historically, many organizations have hidden behind this statistic as a reason for not conducting the planning, training and education.

This disaster denial ensues when someone thinks: “it’s not going to happen to me, it’s not going to be that bad and it’s not going to happen here.”

Those who exhibit disaster denial do not include active shooter and deadly weapons training in their predictive process. By not including an element in the predictive process, that element does not move into the planning process. When something does happen, those individuals are not prepared to perform.

Although an active shooter event may not transpire, recognition of behaviors of concern may be missed due to a lack of planning and oversight. Identifying and helping the person who was thinking of bringing a gun to the workplace is overlooked. An active shooter prevention program is a plug-in to the overall risk management process.

An organization has to look past the denial of “this will never happen to us,” to the point of “what if it does happen? How can we then restore peace of mind? How can we restore confidence in our employees, students, parents, vendors, customers and others who interact with our brand?” You then must think about protecting the branding of your organization for the future life of your organization. If an event is mishandled, that ultimately unwinds years and years of hard work of building a business.

Resiliency and Preparedness are Brand Attributes

A methodology (such as PREDICT.PLAN.PERFORM.®) personalizes plans to organizations. Personalization becomes very critical. No one wants to pick up the phone and make a call explaining that a loved one is not coming home today. You must identify and act when the warning signs are triggered.

It’s one thing for upper management to know how to react during a crisis; but do your people know what to do? How do they know? When an anonymous report is submitted, who receives the report? What do they do with the report? Is it divided by threats and types of categorizations?

Planning and understanding before a crisis occurs is imperative. An organization must strive to empower their people to report issues they see, issues they hear and to voice their concerns. This culture will result in interventions taking place.

It is one thing to have a written plan on paper; it is another to have employees know how to react before, during and after a crisis.

Is your Organization Prepared?

You are your own first responder. If you are unclear of procedures during a crisis, your employees are unclear and underprepared. When you are prepared, you gain something valuable – the time to respond effectively.

To prepare for an active shooter and any form of workplace violence, an organization must take action, focusing on behaviors of concern. Through reporting, the ability to conduct threat assessment and awareness, training is made possible.

In addition to monitoring and identifying behaviors of concern, insurance solutions exist today that were not available before.

The issues of workplace violence are difficult to address. It is time that we address the issue, move forward, prepare for crisis events and have the confidence that we have done everything we can do to prevent and mitigate potential crises.

Remember, denial is not a strategy.

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