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Lessons in Workplace Violence from the Azana & Sikh Temple Shootings

Account Executive

No one expects violence in the workplace, but this is a very real concern that all risk managers need to address.  It is important to have a policy in place for workplace violence and make sure employees know how to report any threat that does arise.

In Wisconsin, we’ve had several high profile examples lately of violence in the workplace.  On August 5, 2012, a mass shooting at a Sikh Temple killed 7 people and wounded 3 others.  On October 21, a shooting at Azana Salon (just three miles from our office) left 4 dead and 4 injured.   

As these examples highlight, workplace violence happens in all industries, in all geographies, in all demographics.  If you had to pick a “violent” industry, a hair salon and house of worship would be unlikely to top the list.  Regardless of what business you’re in, this stuff is important.

What can you do to prevent workplace violence?

When thinking about workplace violence, consider that:

  • Homicide is the 4th highest cause of death in the workplace (1st motor vehicle accidents, 2nd falls, 3rd struck by object)
  • Homicide is the #1 cause of death for women in the workplace
  • 68% of assaults & violent acts in the workplace are homicides
  • Shootings account for 75% of workplace fatalities

As with any risk, there are steps you can and should take to prevent or mitigate episodes of workplace violence.  Your goal should be to provide a workplace for employees which is free from violence by establishing preventive measures, holding perpetrators accountable, and by providing assistance and support to any victims.

1. Encourage employees to report
broken glass

Training on workplace violence should be a part of your onboarding process.  Encourage employees to be on alert to the possibility of violence by co-workers, former co-workers, family members, customers, vendors or strangers.

Have a written policy that states that all acts of violence and threats of violence need to be reported immediately to direct manager, human resources, or another designated resource.

Whether employees believe that policy will depend largely on how you respond to complaints.  Follow up promptly and handle in a confidential manner, with information released only on a need-to-know basis.  Communicate this process to employees so that they do feel comfortable coming forward about any incident or warning sign they observe.

2. Have a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence

Intimidation, threats, physical attacks, domestic violence or property damage should be grounds for dismissal, and certainly warrant disciplinary action.  You may want to include verbiage in any written policy stating that off-duty violence is included in this as well. A zero tolerance policy sends a clear message that there is absolutely no place for hostility and threats in your workplace.

3. Train managers to recognize signs of trouble

Educate supervisors and managers on potential warning signs of violence or indicators that someone is personally distressed.  Be aware of indicators of domestic violence, such as absences or depression. 

Also make sure managers know how to handle terminations with the sensitivity they require.  Being fired or laid off can be traumatic, and there are many incidences of violence by former employees.

4. Secure your facility & have a plan to evacuate

Use passcodes, ID badges/key fobs, etc. to keep your facility secure.  Have all guest sign in at the front desk with a receptionist to maintain a log of who is in the building at all times.  Also, make sure parking areas are adequately lit to mitigate the risk of something happening as employees enter and exit the building.

Should a violent situation arise, employees will need to mobilize to get out of harm’s way.  Utilize pre-arranged procedures to alert each other that help is needed, possibly including hand motions and eye contact to others and code words.  At HNI, we have a designated phrase that all employees can announce over the intercom to indicate a violent situation.

Your workplace violence evacuation plan can mirror your fire evacuation plan, and as with other disasters, you will need to account for any outside guests that are in the building.

5. Create a Crisis Management Team

Have a designated team to respond to any incidents.  Any requests for information from the media or public should be directed to the Crisis Management Team. No other employees should be allowed to speak to the media about any incidences

The Crisis Team would also be tasked with leading employees and managers in normalizing the environment following a workplace violence incident. The aftermath can be traumatic, cluttered with confusion and disorientation.  Employees who are directly or indirectly affected by an incident/situation will need to be debriefed about what happened. 

Preparation is key to preventing workplace violence 

Some workplace violence incidents may be impossible or difficult to prevent.  The best employers can hope to do is build a supportive, harmonious work environment and make it clear that there is no place for violence between or perpetrated by employees.  Create a culture of open communication and a secure way for employees to report any threats that do arise.  Finally, have a plan to secure your facility and an established evacuation procedure.

Could the recent shootings in Wisconsin have been prevented?  It is difficult for anyone to say.  Whether they could have or not, creating the safest working environment possible for employees is of the highest priority.

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