United States: Workplace Violence And Shootings In The Spotlight

Last Updated: February 26 2019
Article by James L. Curtis, Daniel R. Birnbaum and Craig B. Simonsen

Seyfarth Synopsis: With the seemingly random workplace violence that continues unabated, many employers are again asking how best to protect their employees.

We had blogged previously about " Workplace Violence Prevention: DHS Promotes "Active Shooter Preparedness" Programs – Is Your Company Ready?"  In addition, we blogged about an " Airport Active Shooter Incident — What Can Happen in Just 15 Seconds, and What Business Needs to Know."  These blogs illustrate that there are programs that may be developed, with some assistance from models and safety professionals.  Active planning ahead of any such instance may lessen the damages and increase safety and early responses.

OSHA defines "workplace violence" as an act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or other threatening disruptive behavior that occurs at the work site.  It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.  It can involve employees, clients, customers, and visitors.  In addition, OSHA asserts that nearly two million American workers report being victims of workplace violence each year.  According to OSHA: "unfortunately, many more cases go unreported."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the number of workplace homicides in 2015 "accounted for approximately 9 percent of all fatal occupational injuries in 2015. There were 417 workplace homicides in 2015, a slight increase from 2014 but down 12 percent from the 475 reported in 2012."  "Eighty-five percent of workplace homicide victims in 2015 were men. Of the 417 workplace homicides in 2015, 356 were homicides to men and 61 were homicides to women. Homicides represented 18 percent of fatal occupational injuries to women in 2015 compared with 8 percent of fatal occupational injuries to men."

Notably for retailers and transportation providers, "first-line supervisors of retail sales workers (40 fatalities), cashiers (35 fatalities), police and sheriff's patrol officers (34 fatalities), and taxi drivers (27 fatalities) were the occupations with the greatest number of homicides in 2015.."

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reports that the magnitude of workplace violence in the U.S. is measured with fatal and nonfatal statistics from several sources. The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) reported "16,890 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2016. These incidents required days away from work."

In 2016, "of those victims who died from workplace violence, 82% were male, 69% were aged 25 to 54, 31% were working in a retail establishment, 23% were performing protective service activities."

In response to workplace violence events the DHS had issued its "Active Shooter Preparedness Program." The Program was intended to enhance preparedness through a "whole community" by providing training, products, and resources to a broad range of stakeholders on issues such as "active shooter awareness, incident response, and workplace violence." The DHS has found that in many cases, "there is no pattern or method to the selection of victims by an active shooter, and these situations are, by their very nature, unpredictable and evolve quickly."

In DHS Active Shooter Preparedness research, it was found that in 160 Active Shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013, the incidents occurred most frequently in areas of commerce (46 %), followed by educational environments (24 %), and government properties (10 %).

The DHS materials indicate that an effective active shooter plan will include the following:

  • Proactive steps that can be taken by facility tenants to identify individuals who may be on a trajectory to commit a violent act.
  • A preferred method for reporting active shooter incidents, including informing all those at the facility or who may be entering the facility.
  • How to neutralize the threat and achieve life safety objectives.
  • Evacuation, shelter-in-place, hide, and lockdown policies and procedures for individual offices and buildings.
  • Integration with the facility incident commander and the external incident commander.
  • Information concerning local area emergency response agencies and hospitals (i.e., name, telephone number, and distance from the location), including internal phone numbers and contacts.
  • How operations will be restored.

DHS suggests that after company or facility specific policy and procedures, including an active shooter plan are finalized, training and exercises should occur, with drills and exercises at least annually.

Additionally, OSHA indicates that "in most workplaces where risk factors can be identified," the risk of assault can be prevented or minimized if employers take appropriate precautions. It suggests that one of the best protections is a zero-tolerance policy toward workplace violence.  The policy, OSHA advises, should cover all workers, patients, clients, visitors, contractors, and anyone else who may come in contact with company personnel. By assessing worksites, employers can identify methods for reducing the likelihood of incidents occurring. "OSHA believes that a well-written and implemented workplace violence prevention program, combined with engineering controls, administrative controls and training can reduce the incidence of workplace violence in both the private sector and federal workplaces."

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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