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How can employers help reduce workplace violence risks in the aftermath of the Half Moon Bay shootings?

Officials say the shootings in Half Moon Bay, Northern California, on Monday that killed seven people were most likely the work of a “disgruntled employee.”

“The subject was employed at the Mountain Mushroom Farm, the first location,” San Mateo County Sheriff Christina Corpus said Tuesday. “It appears that this individual snapped and took matters into his own hands, and sadly, innocent lives were lost.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 481 (9%) of the 5,190 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2021 were intentional injuries caused by another person. This represents a 23% increase over 2020 and a 6% increase over 2019.

While it is difficult to predict who will commit a mass shooting, experts say employers can take steps to reduce the risks of workplace violence.

“I don’t think employers are doing enough,” said Dick Sem, a workplace violence and security consultant. “There are guidelines. There are best practises you can follow.”

What constitutes workplace violence?

According to a July report from federal agencies, workplace homicide rates in 2019 were about 58% lower than in 1994, but have begun to rise. Rates increased by 11% between 2014 and 2019.

However, workplace violence extends beyond mass shootings. It is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as any act or threat of physical violence or other threatening behaviour at work.

According to the Labor Department, approximately 2 million people are victims of non-fatal workplace violence each year.

“We only discuss workplace violence when there is a mass shooting. There have been a number of reports of people fighting at work or being subjected to extremely hostile and incendiary emotional and mental stress at work,” said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO and president of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “We don’t consider the millions of these incidents that occur every day when you get angry with a coworker and throw a cup of coffee.”

Is there a best way to prevent violent acts?

Because there are no specific OSHA standards for workplace violence, protocols vary.

The agency provides resources for employers and claims that a well-written workplace violence prevention programme combined with training can reduce such incidents.

“OSHA does not mandate workplace gun shooting safety trainings in most workplaces today,” Andy Challenger, senior vice president of global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., said.

According to Sem, a workplace violence prevention programme has four components:

Prevention entails implementing security measures and providing employee training.
Mitigation: Recognizing when a person has the potential to be violent and dealing with the problem, possibly through termination.
Response: In the workplace, the reaction to an emergency, such as running, hiding, or fighting.
Recovery: The action taken in the aftermath of an incident.
However, Sem believes that workplaces frequently operate without a plan.

“When I’m called in, I usually find that there is no workplace violence programme. If there is one, it is only a one-page checkmark. “It doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter,” he says.

Employers who are concerned about workplace violence should consider hiring security personnel and conducting active shooter drills with their employees, according to Taylor.

“It’s horrific, and you’d like to think the chances of it happening are very, very low,” he said. “However, we must remind our employees that this could happen in any workplace,” says the company.

Researchers at Columbia University discovered that only 20% of mass killers between 1900 and 2019 had histories of being subject to a restraining order, arrest, or incarceration, but Taylor said background and reference checks can also help mitigate workplace violence.

“We believe in giving people second chances. “However, you must also conduct reasonable background checks,” he added. “We need to figure out who we’re bringing into the office.”

What should you do if an employee makes violent threats?

OSHA recommends a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence that applies to all employees as well as anyone else who may come into contact with company personnel.

“That should be the benchmark. “There should be no aggression,” Taylor stated. “You may have to separate from a really good employee, but you can’t allow the workplace workers to be subjected to that kind of behaviour. Period.”

Employers, according to Sem, must consider how to safely terminate employees. Having a security guard accompany a former employee out of the office, for example, may cause resentment and other problems.

What else can employees do?

Employees, meanwhile, should notify management if they notice any red flags among their coworkers, whether it’s a verbal threat or a social media message.

“If you hear or see something, say something,” Taylor advised. “You have an obligation to notify the employer of what was said so that we can intervene and de-escalate and de-risk the situation.”

Management and HR professionals, in turn, should be trained on how to deal with potential workplace hazards.

“The temptation is to say, ‘Oh, she’s just talking,’ when it can be genuine,” Taylor explained. “There is nothing worse than waking up the next day and saying, ‘The person actually told us they were going to do this, and we all ignored it.'”

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