4 min read
Sometimes it’s easy to take the safety of our workplaces for granted. High-risk situations, especially those involving conflict and violence are the kinds of incidences that happen to other people and never us. Gun violence, in particular, is something no one likes to imagine they would be involved in or could possibly occur in their place of work. Such things are stories we see on the news and not a potential reality.
Although extreme, gun violence in the workplace and active shooter situations can occur anywhere and at any time. It is crucial that proper training and procedures are instated to prevent gun violence and also ensure that workers know what to do in worst-case scenarios.
In most cases, active shooter situations are not random occurrences. Statistics show that 90% of workplace shootings are carried out by an employee. There are a few factors that can contribute to an individual’s motivation to act in a violent manner. These include if an employee has recently been let go, or perhaps the security of their role is less certain, or their workload has increased; even workplace bullying can lead to an employee building up feelings of resentment and hostility. Although less likely, some workplaces are susceptible to gun violence from other members of the wider community such as a customer or client, or even family members of an employee.
Whatever background the individual comes from, it is extremely likely that they have been struggling with any number of issues in the months or weeks prior that contribute to their decision to take such drastic actions. These could range from ongoing mental health issues, bereavement, increased levels of stress at home, and they may even be victims of violence in their personal lives. Whatever the case may be, there are always warning signs to look out for.
The following signs and behavioral changes are common in those who perpetrate gun violence:
It is important to remember that some of these signs on their own may not be strong enough indicators. An employee may normally be introverted and less social; the key is when an employee’s behavior changes significantly.
If an employee is causing concern among their co-workers everyone must understand that they can report the behavior, regardless of a person’s role in the company.
All workspaces should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to any kind of violence. Policies and procedures should be in place that also covers the issue of gun violence and any behavioral signs that may point to it as a possible threat. But such policies can only work in an environment where employees are encouraged and feel safe coming forward when a co-worker’s behavior is cause for concern. This may mean developing a procedure through which employees can report anonymously. This will help to deal with the issue discreetly and will be less detrimental to workplace culture.
In the event of an active shooter, every workplace should have an emergency action plan which all employees have been trained to enact. Research has found that employees who are trained will act on that training in a crisis and those who have not are more likely to panic and freeze, leaving themselves and others open to greater risks.
A plan should be specific to a workplace and should detail routes for emergency exits and rally points. Different workplaces may be vulnerable at different times. For instance, retail businesses or nightclubs, which are two environments susceptible to armed robbery, are likely to be most vulnerable during the opening and closing hours rather than during the middle of the day. If this is the case, employees should be trained on how to keep the premise secure during these hours but also how to respond in the event of an active shooter. Large workplaces such as hospitals and factories require more detailed planning and exit strategies and systems should be in place that allows for all employees to be alerted to the situation regardless of where they are on the premises.
Involving local authorities in the creation of emergency action plans can also be extremely beneficial. Law enforcement is highly trained to deal with high-risk and violent situations and they can assist you in devising the most effective plans.
One common strategy in active shooter situations follows a 3-step rule: Run, Hide, Fight, more specifically, run if you can, hide if you can’t, fight if you must.
The priority should always be to remove oneself from the area immediately and leave all belongings behind. If possible, call the relevant emergency numbers (000 or 911) and never assume that someone else has called.
If running is not possible, then hiding is the safest option. Try to find lockable structures, such as storage rooms and cupboards but staying quiet and out of sight behind large structures such as equipment or furniture is also recommended.
Retaliating or acting against the shooter should always be the last resort. Employers should discourage employees from engaging with an active shooter, in any way, if possible. If the shooter enters the workplace for money or goods and makes demands, follow them as best you can.
The aftermath of an active shooter situation can be severely traumatizing for those involved. Especially in cases where lives have been lost or an employee has witnessed or been a part of a violent event. In these cases, workplaces should conduct critical incident stress debriefings to help those involved process their response to the events. Severe anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are common in the wake of an active shooter situation and debriefings give employees the chance to ask questions, to process difficult emotional responses to the event, and learn how to identify and manage any signs of stress or trauma they may experience.
While this process should begin as soon as possible, it is important to remember that signs of distress and PTSD may be delayed, and an employee may not begin to show symptoms of the stress of trauma until weeks or months have gone by. Such cases reinforce that systems of support should be in place long after the incident has occurred and employees should be mindful of one another and look for signs of trauma or distress.
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