By Adam R. Young and Craig B. Simonsen
Violence, often involving firearms, is an increasingly common occurrence in the 21st century workplace. The Federal Bureau of Investigation notes that even though homicide is “the most publicized form of violence in the workplace, it is not the most common.”
The FBI defines workplace violence as “any physical assault, threatening behavior or verbal abuse occurring in the work setting.” While some types of these acts “may not be interpreted immediately as violence … many people will witness them in their lifetimes.”
The FBI warns that it is “vital that employers create a sense of hypervigilance in their employees by providing formal training in workplace violence prevention.” To help employers prevent workplace violence, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has recently released an “Active Shooter Preparedness” website intended to make training and other resources available to employers.
Of particular interest are the Active Shooter Webinar materials, including a ninety minute Webinar that the DHS has provided for the private and public sector to “understand the importance of developing an emergency response plan and the need to train employees on how to respond if confronted with an active shooter.” Emphasis added. These Webinar materials include specific tools designed to aid employers in creating and updating policies and procedures to prevent and respond to active shooter scenarios.
Issues covered in the materials include the following:
- Profile of an active shooter;
- Responding to an active shooter or other workplace violence situation;
- Training for an active shooter situation and creating an emergency action plan; and
- Tips for recognizing signs of potential workplace violence.
The materials include a desk reference guide, a reference poster, and a pocket-size reference card.
By utilizing these materials, employers may help prevent harmful workplace violence incidents. Conflict resolution training and employee assistance programs can help reduce the likelihood of workplace violence and active shooter scenarios. Employee training and emergency preparedness can help minimize the harm from incidents and ensure that employees safely exit the workplace.
These measures also will help insulate employers from negligence claims alleging a failure to maintain a safe work environment for employees. Consider also that under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, employers must protect employees from known hazards in the workplace. Employers who fail to implement measures to prevent workplace violence may face citations and increasingly aggressive OSHA enforcement actions.
Accordingly, employers should review DHS’s recommendations for active shooter prevention and preparedness and update their policies and practices as appropriate. Of course, active shooter training and policies are only one piece of an effective workplace violence prevention program. All employers should assess their workplaces and develop comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs and training.