Workplace violence exploded into the public realm last month with the shooting at the Capital Gazette. It’s important to understand that these are isolated incidents, however. Workplace violence is an increasing concern for companies in the United States and Canada.
Unfortunately, these problems are often extremely difficult to foresee. Telling the difference between a normal workplace disagreement and something ready to explode, for example, might not be easy at first glance. To help you continue to understand the impact workplace violence incidents can have and how to prevent it, here are seven incidents of workplace violence that have occurred so far this year:
1. Capital Gazette – Annapolis, Maryland (U.S.)
This was one of the most notable workplace violence incidents in the past decade, so it’s naturally where we need to begin. On Thursday, June 28th, an armed man entered the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD and opened fire with a shotgun while using smoke grenades to maximize the chaos. Five journalists were killed in the massacre, and two more sent to the hospital for injuries.
The attacker was a man who held a long-standing grudge with the newspaper and its journalists. An article was published about the man way back in 2011, and he brought an anti-defamation suit against the paper at the time, which he lost. He lost the appeal, too. Although the original journalist no longer worked for the newspaper, he decided to seek revenge.
Incidents like this are truly tragic. Five innocent people lost their lives. However, there is always a lesson that can be learned. It’s important to control access to your office at all times. Controlling access to visitors and maintaining a list of prohibited people can be the difference between life and death. In the Capital Gazette incident it might not have stopped the shooter, but for your office, it could make all the difference.
2. Warren Paving – Gulfport, Mississippi (U.S.)
Earlier this month on Friday, July 13th, a former employee entered Warren Paving and fired shots inside of the building. Luckily, nobody was injured during the incident and the man quickly fled the scene. Later that day, he turned himself into the authorities. He had recently been fired from the company, which was the impetus for his attempted attack.
Getting fired is an emotionally charged situation. While employees who are let go don’t often come back to perform a violent act, it’s certainly a time when the risk is elevated. Security should always be ready to handle violent incidents when somebody is being let go. Credentials and keys should be removed immediately and access cards should be disabled. While nobody was hurt at Warren Paving, they serve as an excellent reminder of the danger that ex-employees can pose.
3. Flex-N-Gate – Bradford West Gwillimbury, Ontario (Canada)
While the rest of the world was celebrating Independence Day, on Wednesday, July 4th this year at Flex-N-Gate, a male attacked his female co-worker so badly that he was charged with attempted murder. While the woman survived the attack, she was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and required emergency surgical work.
It isn’t only former employees that engage in workplace violence incidents. While the motives for this attack are still unknown, we know that the woman was purposefully injured by one of her colleagues. As a company, you have a responsibility to be as proactive as possible about employee-on-employee violence. Make sure your managers have a handle on bad feeling between colleagues and provide the proper resources to nip ill-will in the bud.
4. J&R Engineering – Barberton, OH (U.S.)
Another incident between two employees occurred on Friday, June 22nd. A 29-year-old man got into an altercation with one of his coworkers. During the fight, he took out a gun and shot him. The injured employee was taken to the hospital to be treated for a gunshot to the chest. The shooter was arrested and charged with felony assault and holding a weapon under disability.
Background checks and understanding your employees are a key aspect of preventing workplace violence. The attacker in this incident was a man considered under disability by the law, which could mean a variety of things such as being a convicted felon, a known addict, or someone with a mental disability. You certainly don’t want to exclude everybody in those buckets from your hiring process, but it isn’t unreasonable to decide you don’t want somebody convicted of a violent felony in a high-stress situation, for example. At the very least, you’ll have the knowledge and tools to offer these employees assistance, working hard to give them the help they need while keeping your entire company safe.
5. McDonald’s – Glendale, WI (U.S.)
This March, a 19-year-old woman received the wrong breakfast sandwich at a McDonald’s restaurant and eventually shoved a young employee after arguing with the manager. The employee hit her head on the frying station and was eventually taken to a local medical facility for further evaluation.
Any employee that deals directly with customers in the public is at risk for workplace violence. Most people don’t get riled up enough over an incorrect sandwich order to commit assault, but it only takes one incident for an employee to get seriously injured or worse. Make sure that all front-line employees are fully trained and prepared to deal with workplace violence, especially your supervisors and managers.
6. Woolworth’s – Mandurah, WA (U.S.)
Another occurrence of customer-on-employee violence occurred in June. After banning plastic bags throughout the store in an effort to be more environmentally friendly, a man became angry at the change. While at the self-checkout station, he was handed a free reusable bag by a female employee. He continued his scanning and in the confusion accidentally scanned an item twice. Upon noticing he put his hands around the woman’s throat. The incident ended quickly and the woman was not seriously injured, but it served as a good reminder for the entire company.
During transition periods such as this, it’s correct to assume that many customers might become upset or confused. You should, therefore, work to make the transition as simple as possible. Put together clear, simple signage. Staff additional employees simply to walk around and talk to customers to make sure that they understand what’s happening and what options they have. You cannot account for every potentially upset customer, but it’s a good idea to try your best.
7. East Coast Forensic Hospital – Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (Canada)
In April, a pregnant nurse at a psychiatric hospital was attacked by a patient. She had a panic alarm on her, but it didn’t work as intended and no help was summoned. Instead, her screams were heard by other patients, who ended up helping her. Two months earlier, the nurse’s union had brought it to the attention of the hospital that the alarms might not be working properly. However, it was swept under the rug and deemed not worth an investigation. Luckily, the nurse and her baby recovered, and no long-term complications are anticipated.
It’s absolutely vital that your employees have access to the emergency tools they need at work, especially in a high-risk profession such as nursing. When employees bring up a complaint, as they did at the East Coast Forensic Hospital, you must take them seriously every single time. Not only are you protecting your employees from harm, you’re protecting your company, too.
No matter how thoroughly prepared you are, it’s impossible to completely eliminate the threat of workplace violence. However, you can give your employees the tools they need to handle any potential threats or actual incidents. Empowering your employees with the confidence they need to respond appropriately could be the difference between an incident breaking out or being thwarted. If an incident does break out, it could be the difference between life and death.
- Establish a strong workplace violence prevention & threat management program, consisting of the following at a minimum:
- Clear policy at a corporate level
- A method to report threats of workplace violence
- An individual or team responsible for managing threats
- Establish a method to document all reported threats & acts of workplace violence.
- Put into place a trained, cross-functional team that will assess threats and take action to mitigate the likelihood of escalation to an actual incident. The team’s focus should be on taking actions that protect the organization and your employees and customers.
- Publish regular reporting to stakeholders across the organization of the number of threats and workplace violence incidents.
- Directly connect your threat assessment process to your method of managing a crisis situation so that there is a smooth transition in the event of a major incident.
- Partner with an external consultant, such as Bryghtpath, where needed to help establish, grow, and mature your program.
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