He was quiet, such a nice guy. He kept to himself. He didn’t socialize much. Does that sound familiar?
Neighbors, coworkers, friends of active shooting perpetrators typically describe the person to the media as a nice person in the days following a mass casualty incident. They typically don’t recognize the behaviors and actions of a person planning an act of workplace violence.
“The average worker does not snap overnight – that’s Hollywood,” says Al Shenouda, a former law enforcement tactical commander and security advisor with the Department of Homeland Security and speaker at EHS Today’s 2018 Safety Leadership Conference.
Workplace violence is more likely to occur in places without policies or managers who understand what types of behaviors lead to an event. So, what can a safety professional do to effectively train workers to spot acts of incivility, discontent and changes in a person they see on a daily basis?
Having an “it’ll never happen to me” mentality is a surefire way to be unprepared when an act of workplace violence occurs, Shenouda says.
Shenouda, along with other subject matter experts, provides organizations with insights and tactics on preventing and surviving an active shooter situation.
The value of early recognition, or seeing changes in a worker and addressing them, is the first step to prevention.
“Establish an early warning system,” says Gino Soave, Niles Industrial Coatings’ corporate safety director and speaker at EHS Today’s 2018 Safety Leadership Conference. “No threat is too small. Words always precede actions.”
Changes in behavior should be reported to a supervisor. For example, introverted workers that begin to voice their opinions in an aggressive manner, or an employee that is more extroverted and seem withdrawn could potentially plan to retaliate.
Soave notes 12 particular behaviors that could lead to an act of workplace violence:
1. Temper tantrums
2. Excessive absenteeism
3. Decrease in productivity
4. Testing limits
5. Disrespect for authority
6. Verbalizes negative action/harm
8. Numbers and intensity of arguments rise
9. Intense anger
10. Social withdrawal
11. Suicidal threats
12. Property destruction
When it comes down to it, every employee should have some type of basic awareness training, Shenouda says.
Company policy for escalating behaviors should reiterate a no-tolerance policy. If a threat or incivility occurs, a worker should immediately alert a direct supervisor. The supervisor should report the behavior to human resources or safety representative, who will then take the appropriate steps to address the individual.
“Most workers don’t understand the ins and outs of a prevention program,” Shenouda says. “You want to save lives? Do basic awareness training. When things start getting unglued, what are you going to do?”
Respond and Save
The “hot potato” scenario often leads to an active shooting.
Employees who see changes in a fellow worker will begin avoiding the person, acting like nothing is happening, denies anything is wrong or brushes it off as something that is not part of their job responsibilities, Soave says.
“Has society trained us not to get involved if something doesn’t directly affect us?” he questions.
These changes and the subsequent lack of response are the catalysts for escalated behaviors. However, once an active shooting takes place, employees cannot sit back and every single one needs to be trained to respond accordingly.
“Most mass shooting incidents last three to five minutes,” Shenouda says.
“They’re looking for body count. More people are getting killed now by active shooters than in history.”
An effective basic training program should not only include preventing an incident, but it should also include situational awareness, survival training, and first aid techniques.
“In an emergency situation, paramedics and law enforcement are not the first responders,” Soave says. “Citizens are the first responders.”
Staying a step ahead of danger is key. Have workers identify spaces that provide a vantage point, rooms in which they could barricade themselves and tools and common items they can use as weapons. Because a person can succumb to an injury before law enforcement arrives, techniques such as improvising a tourniquet and stopping blood loss should be taught.
“The key is to try to get out in front of these acts,” Soave recommends. “Keep an open line of communication and keep training exciting. This falls under OSHA’s general duty clause. It’s no different than what you do every day.”