Five steps to prevent workplace tragedy

On Sunday, Sept. 10, a single minute after an intruder arrived at Anchorage’s Aurora Paint, the owner was shot in the head. Three days later, police found three men dead at an Anchorage precious-metals shop.

“Every employer that has not experienced workplace violence,” says workplace consultant Richard Birdsall, “thinks it could never happen to them.” Except when it does — according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workplace homicides are on the rise, and “after planning” comes too late.

If you’re an employer who wants to protect your employees, your customers and yourself, what do you need to know and do?

2 Minutes

If you don’t plan ahead to handle an incident, you leave your workplace and employees at risk. The average active shooter incident lasts less than two minutes — an agonizingly long time if you’re confronted by violence, but far too short to allow your employees to plan how to handle the shooter unless they’ve pre-planned. Sixty percent of all shooting incidents end before the police arrive.

According to HR consultant Scott Stender, who has more than two decades of law enforcement experience, including a stint as director of public safety at the City of Sand Point and three years as a SWAT team tactical commander, “Employers need to arm themselves and their employees with an emergency action plan that incorporates external and internal threat assessment. If they then train their staff and conduct timed drills, they greatly increase their employees’ and customers’ chances of survival.”

As just one step, employers need to orient employees with a response plan for “run, hide or fight” based on their company’s physical layout.

See through ‘bad guy eyes’

Do you walk by an unlocked car full of valuables without thinking of stealing? According to Birdsall, “If you want to protect yourself or your company from violence, you have to look at your workplace as a criminal might. Criminals see an unlocked car as an invitation. They’re opportunists.” So, take a step back and view your actions and workplace as a bad guy might and do whatever you can to eliminate vulnerabilities. The suspect allegedly walked into Aurora Paint’s open side door. If one of your employees is the only one in the building and her solo car in the parking lot signals that fact, she needs the protection of a locked door.

Based on his nine years in law enforcement, Birdsall recommends eliminating these opportunities:

  • Darkness presents opportunities for criminals to hide. What changes can you make when it comes to the parking lot and external lighting?
  • Safety increases with the number of eyes on deck. Are your employees arranged in positions of over-watch, or is everyone positioned with their backs to the public?
  • Do the employees present themselves as prepared and aware, or unprepared and complacent?
  • How secure are your doors, windows and high-value items? What do your windows showcase?
  • The cost of security cameras is low compared to their deterrence value.

Listen to your employees

Do you have a forum that invites employees to share their concerns if they notice a co-worker’s strange behavior? Do your employees feel comfortable letting a senior manager or the HR officer know if they’ve requested a restraining order against someone they consider dangerous? Once employees voice their concerns, do you listen and act? Have you trained your supervisors to document and report all violent and potentially violent acts? Does your HR officer or a third-party consultant immediately investigate when an employee threatens violence or acts out in an abnormally aggressive manner? According to Birdsall, multiple danger signals preceded seven of the eight workplace killings that have occurred thus far in 2017.

In other words, some of those deaths could have been prevented.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at

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