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Jenny Jacobsen
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December 6, 2016
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Workplace Violence: Response and Recovery (Part 3)

Workplace violence has become all too common, and the need for action has never been greater. As risk managers, we take this threat seriously and have dedicated a three- part series to educate our readers on this important topic. In parts one and two, we discussed applicable regulatory standards and guidelines, as well as threat assessment and management techniques. The third and final part of this series is dedicated to response strategies – what to do when a violent event occurs and how to handle its aftermath. While we hope that our readers are never faced with the unfortunate reality of workplace violence, we know it is imperative to prepare for worst-case scenarios. Investing time and resources into this training before a violent event occurs could mean the difference between life and death.


Creating a Response Plan

Once employees have been trained to identify potentially at-risk individuals and a solid plan is in place to try to prevent workplace violence, employers must then decide how to train their employees to respond to an act of violence. While much of the response guidance available is based on “active shooter” scenarios, this guidance can be extended to cover many types of workplace violence events that can unfold. A common response strategy is the Run-Hide-Fight protocol developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS partnered with the City of Houston to create a video demonstrating the Run-Hide-Fight response to an active shooter, which has been viewed by millions (and is available on the DHS website). The Run-Hide-Fight concept has been adopted by private employers across the country, with training for more vulnerable individuals like school children and the elderly or disabled, who are often limited to the Run-Hide aspect of this multipronged violence survival strategy.

The basic premise of the Run-Hide-Fight concept is to first try to escape (run). If gunshots are heard, a physical assault takes place or another event occurs that creates a personal security concern, people are encouraged to get out of the area if it’s safe to do so. In the event of an armed assailant, people who remain in the area not only face the risk of a direct assault by the assailant, but they could also get caught in crossfire with responding law enforcement. Employees should attempt to get out of the area, help others escape if they can and get to a safe position (preferably outside) before dialing 911.

If a safe escape isn’t possible, it’s time to hide. If your facility has a safe room, attempt to hide there first. A safe room is a restroom, storage closet, break room or some other space with a door and few interior-facing windows. If no safe room exists, employees should turn off lights, silence phones and crouch below desks or next to large objects and stay out of view. If possible, they should lock doors and barricade them with heavy objects. They should stay out of the door frame, keep low to the ground and remain quiet; however, they can call 911 from hiding if it’s deemed safe to do so.

If running or hiding are not viable response options, the last resort is to fight back. Look for objects that could be turned into weapons. For example, discharging a fire extinguisher at an attacker could temporarily blind them and make breathing difficult. The body of the extinguisher can be used as a weapon to inflict blunt-force trauma. Scissors, pens / pencils, staplers, letter openers, computer monitors and other workplace objects can serve as weapons during a life-and-death emergency.

Run-Hide-Fight is just one method employers can follow when providing workplace violence response training. The DHS website has several “active shooter” preparedness resources to help employers develop a training program that fits their needs. It is important to get employees thinking about how they would respond in various scenarios. Having a plan could potentially save a life when split-second decisions mean the difference between evading an assailant and remaining in harm’s way.


Recovery Mode

While the hope is that workplace violence will not occur, the fact is that nearly two million incidents are reported each year. It is estimated that corporate America spends between $4.2 billion and $6.4 billion per year recovering from workplace violence.1 A post-incident recovery plan is a crucial part of a workplace violence prevention program. Companies must be prepared to help their employees cope with the emotional impact of the incident, address the media and debrief / make adjustments to the program. According to the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress website, employers have a responsibility to employees when it comes to workplace trauma:

A workplace is a community, with all of the subsequent issues of identity and culture. It will have its own norms and expectations for how and when things are discussed, what are acceptable and appropriate behaviors, the roles of formal and informal leaders, and feelings of pride and identification with the community. Because of this sense of community, when a traumatic event occurs in the workplace, there needs to be a response by an employer to one of the organization’s greatest resources – the employees. Such support must be afforded to workers regardless of what is being done for the people in the organization by the outside community. To ignore an event and its impact on employees is a tragic mistake for the continued success of the business and the recovery and mental health of the employees – both being dependent on the other. What an employer would do in any situation will vary and depend upon many variables. A response, however, is critical.2

Physical injury is not the only result of workplace violence. Major, long-term psychological trauma can occur after a violent incident. Several factors influence how a traumatic event affects an individual. These factors include the duration of the event, the amount of terror the victim experienced, the sense of personal control (or lack thereof) the victim had during the incident and the amount of injury or loss the victim experienced (i.e., loss of property, self-esteem, physical well-being, etc.). Other variables include the individual’s previous victimization experiences and other stresses they may have, such as illness or family issues.

Proper training should be provided to staff managers or crisis team members assigned to help affected employees. Many employee assistance programs (EAPs) are prepared to respond to a variety of needs that may arise after a workplace violence incident. These may include individual interventions for employees who had particularly stressful experiences, as well as group debriefing sessions in the days following the incident. Depending on the nature of the incident, temporary benefits such as personal protection coaching, flexible work scheduling or relocation to another office may be appropriate. Vacation or paid time off donation banks allow co-workers to support one another in times of need.

In addition to taking care of employee needs, employers must also be ready to appropriately handle any ensuing media attention. Workplace violence incidents attract publicity, and the way a company responds to the attention often affects the severity and longevity of the crisis. Well thought and timely crisis communications can help mitigate potential damages and help position the company in a more favorable light. Companies must be prepared to strategically respond to the attention through various news outlets, on social media or by internal and external campaigns. An effective response requires planning, training and regularly holding crisis response exercise drills.

Managing a Persistent Threat

Despite our continued prevention efforts and intervention strategies, workplace violence will continue to be a threat throughout the world. Regardless of the way it manifests itself, employers are expected to provide a safe working environment, which means they must understand, prepare for and mitigate workplace violence exposures. Because of the broad spectrum of workplace violence and the inability to completely transfer or eliminate this risk, an enterprise risk approach should be used for risk identification, quantification, control and administration. Successful workplace violence prevention and intervention programs are often the result of attentive, multidisciplinary teams, as well as well-trained employees and continual response planning for a workplace violence incident. It is our hope that this three-part series has shed some light on the realities of workplace violence and will encourage our readers to be more proactive to help prevent unnecessary loss.

Read part one now.

Read part two now.

1 The Employee Assistance Trade Association website. “Responding to Workplace Violence.” Accessed on September 10, 2016.
2 Hoffman, Carol. “Responding to Workplace Trauma.” Accessed on September 10, 2016.

This article originally appeared in the 2016 | ISSUE THREE of the SilverLink magazine under the title “Workplace Violence – Response and Recovery. A Three-Part Review – Part Three.” To receive a complimentary subscription to the SilverLink magazine, sign up here.

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