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Preventing violence starts with awareness

April 17th, 2013  |  Lorene Park

Somewhere there are one or more individuals behind the Boston Marathon bombs, who, in addition to being murderers, are likely someone’s neighbors, customers, and perhaps coworkers. Law enforcement is doing what it can to find these dregs of society. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign identifies suspicious activity that could be indicative of terrorism, and encourages individuals to report such activity to prevent future attacks. The truth is, however, that John Q. Public is facing violence on a daily basis and it’s not due to acts of terrorism – more commonly it is physical assaults, threats, and harassment at work. You may not be able to stop a terrorist from putting a bomb in a public trash bin, but you can do plenty to prevent workplace violence, and it starts with awareness.

Warning signs

Employees and managers should be trained to recognize and report potentially violent coworkers. Individuals do not usually just “snap,” and there are often signs which, if recognized, could lead to preventative action. Some signs could include:

  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs and unexplained absences
  • Decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
  • Depression, mood swings, suicidal comments, or talk of problems at home
  • Unsolicited comments about firearms or other weapons
  • Signs of domestic abuse (unexplained injuries; attempts to conceal injuries; frequent calls or visits from partner; overly controlling behavior by a partner)
  • Verbal threats or acts of aggression at work, including menacing gestures, intimidation, disorderly conduct, and aggressive “horseplay”

That is not to say that everyone who has one or more of these signs will become violent and certainly some signs are bigger red flags than others. The point is simply to train managers and employees to recognize that these are warning signs and to report them. It would help to have a predetermined means of reporting such issues; for example, to a manager designated to receive such reports.

Security measures

In addition to having a means for employees to report warning signs, employers can take security measures to prevent violence, such as providing extra lighting at entrances and parking areas; requiring photo ID badges; using metal detectors or cameras; prohibiting weapons; and encouraging employees to be aware of their surroundings, including the nearest exits. If a particular employee is experiencing domestic violence, consider added measures such as screening visitors and calls more closely, changing the employee’s office location or hours, and providing an escort to and from the parking lot.

Response to violence

In addition to staying vigilant and taking security measures to prevent violence, it is important to train employees how to respond to a violent incident. For example, in a DHS booklet and poster the agency instructs people to respond to a shooting first by trying to escape, and if that is not possible, hiding behind something that provides protection. As a last resort, the DHS suggests that if you are in imminent danger, you are more likely to survive if you defend yourself aggressively, improvising weapons and committing to your actions. Once safety is assured, employees should call 911 and stop others from entering the danger zone. The DHS encourages employers to run drills, having employee practice various responses. Additional measures that could be taken by employers include teaching employees a “code word” to use to signal trouble in the workplace and having pre-designated places where employees can go to regroup. Some basic first aid training and having a first aid kit on hand is also advisable.