With so many news stories highlighting mass shootings throughout the United States, it should hardly be surprising that many people worry about whether they too could become a victim. Highly publicized incidents have given us reason to fear when attending concerts and sporting events — and even when going to work or school.
News stories surrounding mass shootings can be especially alarming when put in light of the fact that 31% of all mass shootings worldwide take place in the United States, even though our country only makes up about 5% of the total world population.
This type of coverage has had a notable impact on the psyche of the average person. Recent research from Gallup found, “About four in 10 Americans are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ worried that they or someone in their family will become a victim of a mass shooting.” Women and individuals under the age of 34 expressed even higher levels of concern, while the majority of Americans feel that changes to gun laws would have little to no effect on these acts of violence.
As an employer, it is essential to understand that these worries have a residual effect on the workplace. An individual who fears for their own safety at work is less likely to perform at an optimal level. They may even choose to quit if they feel that their work environment is unsafe or ignores their concerns regarding security. Because of this, employers have a very real responsibility in relation to mass shootings. Taking proactive measures will not just give employees peace of mind — it can also prevent a tragedy.
The Duty of Maintaining a Safe Work Environment
The OSHA General Duty Clause mandates that employers are obligated to protect their employees from recognized hazards that could cause serious death or harm.
In regard to workplace violence, OSHA notes, “An employer that has experienced acts of workplace violence, or becomes aware of threats, intimidation, or other indicators showing that the potential for violence in the workplace exists, would be on notice of the risk of workplace violence and should implement a workplace violence prevention program combined with engineering controls, administrative controls, and training.”
If there is a legitimate risk for workplace violence, you are obligated to act — particularly if there have been previous such incidents at your facility, in the surrounding community or at other businesses similar to your own. Foreseeability is a powerful word when it comes to litigation regarding a workplace violence event. Even if such regulations weren’t a consideration, however, employers would still have a moral responsibility to protect their staff.
Training and Protecting Staff
A key part of preventing mass shootings and other incidences of workplace violence is providing the training that will help staff identify and prevent such threats.
Increasing employees’ situational awareness can have an impact long before a violent incident takes place. Employees should receive training that helps them understand what suspicious behavior looks like, as well as how to respond appropriately. This in turn will enable them to make smarter decisions, such as deciding whether an individual’s actions need to be referred to the company’s security team. Learning to read body language and other warning signs could allow an intervention to take place before a shooting has the chance to occur.
This preventative training should also emphasize best practices that improve the physical security of your office. Policies and procedures for reporting threatening behavior should be clearly communicated. Even simple practices like locking exterior doors can help employees become more accountable for their own safety and feel greater peace of mind.
Safety training becomes even more essential in the event that a shooter actually does enter the premises. Employees should be fully aware of evacuation routes, emergency contact procedures and other policies aimed at promoting a safe and efficient evacuation. Provide regular training and conduct drills so that employees know how to respond in a wide variety of situations.
The key to successful implementation of these policies is taking a proactive approach that continues well after the initial training is completed. By strictly enforcing safety policies and taking seriously any submitted complaints related to workplace violence, you can ease the fears of your staff and create a safer work environment. As you make these policies a priority, your employees will do the same, helping to alleviate fear and reduce risk.
Improving Physical Security
Taking steps to improve physical security can also help you make major strides in improving employee confidence and reducing the risk of a mass shooting. Naturally, the methods that will be best suited for your facility will depend on the size of your company and your building layout. A professional assessment can identify which areas are the most vulnerable, as well as which actions can be taken to mitigate the threat.
The most commonly implemented measures include the installation of access control, a new security camera system, or the hiring of additional guard staff. These serve as obvious physical indicators that you are taking security seriously, and these measures can often serve as a deterrent against would-be criminals who might target your business. These visible efforts clearly demonstrate your commitment to employee safety.
A central communications system can improve overall safety and give peace of mind to your employees. Today’s messaging systems allow you to send texts, emails or push notifications to warn employees of a shooter or another threat. These systems allow all employees to receive real-time alerts, ensuring that everyone can get to safety if an incident were to occur. This technology further implement a proactive mindset among your workforce.
No Need to Fear with Preparation
Even though mass shootings make headlines and have a high impact on political debates and other aspects of our lives, they are ultimately a low-probability event for most businesses. In 2013, there were 322 workplace homicides as the result of an intentional shooting, compared to an estimated 116.31 million individuals with full-time employment.
While the probability is low, but a single incident of workplace violence can have a devastating impact. Fear alone can have a significant negative influence on employee satisfaction and productivity. However, as employers take active measures to create a safe work environment and provide appropriate training to their staff, their risk will decrease even further, and employees can have peace of mind.