Workplace Safety

The Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Excel Industries lawn products company in Kansas, and the WDBJ TV station shooting in Roanoke, Virginia in which two on-air reporters were killed by a former employee, are all tragic reasons why businesses large or small must have an emergency action plan in place.

Despite these and other workplace shootings incidences, many U.S. companies and organizations are not prepared to deal with the worst.  While terrorist attacks are extremely rare in the workplace, OSHA estimates that on average, some form of violence affects roughly two million workers each year.  Despite this frequency, companies that experienced an incident of workplace violence continued to avoid preparedness.  In a 2005 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, 12 months after an incident nearly 9% of companies still had not instituted workplace safety procedures or policies.  A 2010 follow-up study revealed that as many as 70% of businesses continued with no workplace violence program.  Just as many people buy a security system after a burglary happens, do not regret being unprepared!  Whether a leader in a large business or small, you can take steps now to help minimize the panic, distress, and economic disruption before an event occurs.  The security and health of your workers should be your highest priority.

Preemptive  Planning – Healthy Workplace Culture

A good place to begin is to confirm that policies dealing with employee behavior, respect, consideration, and fairness are understood and practiced at all levels of the organization.  Managers and leaders have a wider obligation to ensure the safety and protection of not only the work environment, but of each employee regardless of gender, race, religion, or orientation.  Encourage a community that respects diversity and fairness. Have a zero-tolerance policy for aggressive or intimidating behavior.  Be certain that all employees know how to access your employee assistance program or the appropriate contact person when there is a concern.  Keep individual reporting confidential, but do act upon any information about behaviors or threats that seem counter to workplace policies.  This includes any external threats reportedly made against someone inside of your organization.

For small businesses where the owner is the HR department, remember that leaders set the tone for how employees treat each other.  Even if you do not have formal HR policies, everyone should know the rules.  Hiring and firing practices should be fair and unbiased.  Discuss with your employees what constitutes a threat and what they should do if a colleague or outside person threatens them.  Clearly state sanctions, how and when they will be applied, and at what stage someone could be terminated.  If an employee or their outside connection becomes a security risk, take action immediately.  Do not wait until the threat grows.  Local police have resources to help small businesses be proactive.

Some general tips for large and small businesses:

  • Train for an emergency.  Create an emergency action plan and practice the procedures with all staff.
  • Ask your telephone service to include enhanced 911 on your telephone plan (E911) so that police will not need your location to respond.
  • Install inside locks and blinds on office windows in case of a lock-down.
  • Create a safe zone where employees not in immediate danger can escape to in case of an emergency.  It might be a closed office with a steel door or a safe exit route.  All employees should know what to do and where to go in the event of an active shooter attack.  The Department of Homeland Security has published a guide to help large and small businesses deal with an emergency that involves an active shooter.
  • Installing Code Blue alarms can warn employees to lock down and also trigger an armed police response.
  • If possible, have security monitor opening and closing hours, which is when many problems occur.
  • Be sure that your location has outside security lighting, especially in doorways and dark recesses.
  • Limit access by using key cards or punch code locks on entrances when possible.

It is beyond the scope of this article to give further guidance on enhancing the safety and well-being of your employees, but there is help available.  The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 mandates that organizations “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health…”

In addition to OSHA, other local, federal, state, and non-profit organizations can assist your company in setting up the appropriate  emergency policies and procedures.  Do not delay; begin now to create an emergency action plan so that your employees, managers, and leaders know how to react in case of an emergency.

Important resources:

American Red Cross Ready Rating™  – This is a free program that results in a safety readiness score, which can be used to benchmark your yearly workplace emergency preparedness practice.  The Red Cross also offers OSHA-compliant health and safety training.

Workplace Violence — Are You Prepared?  New Risks/New Approaches to Prevention.  (July 2016).  This white paper by Robert Bowman, Regional Risk Control Manager of PMA Companies, is extremely helpful in identifying risk and providing control strategies for both small and large organizations.

U.S. Department of Labor – Workplace Violence Program.   Federal Government guidelines identifying critical levels of violence and response necessary for any violence prevention program.  Also identifies organizational roles and responsibilities.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Workplace Violence.  Risk factors, prevention programs, and training resources are available from the OSHA website.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Active Shooter: How to Respond.

The next blog focuses on the topic of cyber security and what small businesses can do to protect themselves from data breaches and cyber attacks.