Tragically, California is reeling from the effects of two mass shootings in almost as many days, each one leaving in its wake shattered lives. These devastating events are on top of what is shaping up to be an especially violent year so far, with multiple mass shootings taking place less than one month into the year.
In just the past few weeks, we have seen violence affect communities coast to coast, and impact almost every type of location. These tragedies have occurred at agricultural sites, college campuses, in large retail settings, in night life locations, on military installations and simply in streets and neighborhoods throughout America. Though the causes and triggers of violent incidents are multi-faceted, there are core lessons which community members and employers can take from these incidents to be prepared, should they be confronted with a violent incident. Violence can happen in any place, and almost all of the locations where these shootings have occurred are workplaces of some sort. Employers of all sizes and in all industries should review their policies and training to ensure they are preparing their employees and their businesses to react in case the unthinkable occurs. To paraphrase a military saying, you will react like you train.
The first lesson we must draw from these incidents is that preparation is critical. As an individual, knowing where you will go and rehearsing what you will do in a violent incident are key considerations. As an FBI guide puts it, “you must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with the situation.” (FBI Active Shooter Event Quick Reference Guide.) The admonition to be prepared is all the more important for employers, who have a duty to provide a safe workplace to their employees under both federal and California law. Part of fulfilling that duty, in the context of preventing and responding to workplace violence, should be a workplace violence prevention policy and plan coupled with a robust training plan.
Both OSHA and Cal/OSHA begin discussions on preventing workplace violence by noting that management commitment, demonstrated through strong workplace anti-violence policies, are essential to combating workplace violence. Another tool to mitigate the risk of violence is a robust workplace violence prevention plan (“WVPP”). These comprehensive plans in California are required for health care facilities and providers. With a current draft rule pending in California, they may soon be required for all businesses. Such plans necessitate a comprehensive review of an employer’s physical, managerial and personnel systems to identify and apply mitigation measures to risks. Though the risk of workplace violence can never be fully mitigated, preparing a WVPP can assist an employer in identifying everything from blind spots in personnel screening and discipline policies, to actual physical blind spots where an employee could be cut off from assistance by an attacker. Finally, thorough training on workplace violence identification and prevention, which could include everything from viewing the FBI’s Run Hide Fight video, to actually teaching employees to physically defend themselves (which is very common in health care settings), should be an essential part of an employer’s workplace violence prevention program.
Given the prevalence and variety of violent incidents impacting the workplace today, employers would be well advised to review their preparations for a workplace violence incident to see if any additions or improvements could be made. In the interest of everyone’s safety in the workplace, it should be reinforced that “we will react like we train.”