The increasing number of workplace violence incidents in our country have employees increasingly concerned for their safety at work. Last week’s blog addressed many ways employers can prevent workplace violence. Those suggestions range from strong employment practices throughout the employment life cycle, to policy choices, customer service and building security options. No matter how many steps we take, if our facility is public or the wrong person gets access somehow, violence can still erupt in our workplaces.
A recent example of this is an incident that occurred recently in a Los Angeles Trader Joe’s grocery store. A chase related to a domestic dispute ended in a crash outside of the store and the gunman ran into the store where employees and customers ended up in the middle of gunfire and many became hostages. There was no way for Trader Joe’s to anticipate this situation or prevent it. But the actions of several employees indicate they may have had some training. It’s important to have a plan for how management and employees should react to such an event that focuses on a prompt response to minimizing injuries and casualties.
Take steps to prepare your employees
There are steps employers can take to prepare for the possibility of an act of violence that can’t be prevented or predicted.
If you are preparing your company for the potential of an act of violence, it’s good to let your employees know. If employees know that you are making work environment safety a priority, that will help reduce the feelings of uncertainty. Tell them what you already have in place. They may know or may need a refresher. It may be a good time to encourage suggestions, as well, since your employees may have already formulated some ideas about how to be safe at work.
Employers should develop emergency procedures, so all staff members are on the same page. In Part 1 of this blog, we discussed the potential for allowing or encouraging properly permitted individuals to carry guns to assist in the event of an active shooter situation. If you are considering this as a company, it should be considered with proper counsel, as there are many cascading responsibilities to consider. Whether or not this is an option, it’s important for all employers to have a plan that guides employees should such an incident occur.
Use local resources to form a plan
Your local law enforcement agencies are a good resource to assist in forming a plan. Additionally, the FBI has created a resource for companies called “Run. Hide. Fight. ® Surviving an Active Shooter Event.” (https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources/responding-to-an-active-shooter-crisis-situation). The video contains practical, general suggestions for employers and employees that are presented in a brief, concise, simple to understand format. The video takes the “run, hide, fight” approach, in that order.
In the recent Trader Joe’s incident, many employees took the first approach of fleeing the scene. They were seen heading out doors and windows throughout the facility. The second option of hiding or setting up barriers between themselves and the shooter can also be seen in the Trader Joe’s example, where there were reports of many barricading themselves into spaces to stop the shooter from getting to their part of the facility. Finally, when all else fails, the video suggests employees may have to fight the shooter. That didn’t happen in the Trader Joe’s incident, but there have certainly been incidents where that has happened causing the situation to be resolved quickly.
In uncertain situations, many employees will find comfort in knowing that there are procedures in place for such an occurrence and what their roles are if an incident happens. As always, it’s important to clearly communicate the expected procedures to employees. Remember though, that while some will be relieved to know the plan, others may think it’s a worthless waste of time if the reasons for the procedures aren’t clearly defined.
Share and communicate your procedures clearly
New procedures can be rolled out at regular meetings or a special meeting can be held to communicate procedures. If your company chooses to show the FBI “Run. Hide. Fight.” video in a meeting, it, is a great way to start a productive discussion about your company’s expectations of employees in such an emergency. Ongoing training, such as reminders at regular meetings and posting procedures throughout the building or in a visible, central location may be good options for many employers, as well. And always remember that new hires will need to be brought up to speed with everyone else.
The responsibility of keeping employees safe is a heavy burden to carry, but there are many things employers can do to prepare for an incident to should it happen. Communicating prevention and preparedness strategies to employees can empower them and put them at ease as they face the uncertainty that comes with the modern-day reality of increased violence in the workplace.
Trisha Crigger, Human Resources Generalist