Workplace Violence Prevention

By R. Brent Lang, CIM FCSI

As a regular contributor to The Canadian Business Journal, I have utilized my own career experience and training to share thoughtful analysis of numerous subjects relevant to executive-caliber readers of this publication. Additionally, I have reached out to, and interviewed engaged leaders in Canadian industry and public service, to provide their first-hand findings and foresight.  I feel this month’s topic; – Workplace Violence Prevention – although heavy – can be life-saving!

A workplace violence prevention training program is a management practice you MUST implement and continuously monitor as a Canadian business! FACT: Employers have a legal obligation to prevent workplace violence. Every Canadian jurisdiction (Federal, Provincial, and Territorial) has its own Occupational Health & Safety legislation.  Source: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.

In summer 2013, I was invited to attend a presentation at Lexxon Training titled, “Assessing Risk and Managing Outcomes: Workplace Violence Prevention”. Lynn Cook, Manager, Learning and Development, made this presentation fit into the busy calendars of many diverse managers in attendance. This knowledge was eye-opening and went hand-in-hand with another presentation I was privileged to glean notes from by Staff Sergeant, Phil Spencer, BC Sheriff Service, speaking candidly and professionally  on the horrific subject of “active shooter” at large. This topic has resonated with me since then and situations arise where this most basic training – a minimal understanding of this subject was enough to keep my senses attuned to potential risks surrounding me. Staff Sergeant Spencer – guarding the Provincial Court House in his region took time recently to briefly update me since his presentation – preventative measures implemented are continuously reviewed and improved to provide a safe environment for this public facility, its patrons and staff. Indeed, uniformed, armed Sheriffs were present throughout the facility – and I was aware their eyes and surveillance were omniscient.

Government and industry have declared workplace violence an “epidemic” in some industries.  Do you work in an environment experiencing intense organizational change?

Do you work with the public, handle money, valuables or prescription drugs? Carry out inspection or enforcement duties? Provide services, care, advice or education? Work with unstable or volatile persons? Work where alcohol is served? Well, you’re considered “high-risk”.

Primary results when searching “workplace violence” provide tragic accounts from across our Nation – particularly spousal abuse. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms Homicide is the fourth-leading cause of fatal occupational injury in the US and the leading cause of workplace death for females. In Canada, a survey of people’s reported experiences of violence showed:1

17% occurred in the workplace and included sexual assault, robbery and/or physical assault

38% of violent incidents were allegedly perpetrated by a current or former co-worker, or other work-related contacts including patients, clients or customers.

Workplace violence can arise from:

A person inside the workplace, such as a co-worker or manager

A person related to the function of the workplace such as a patient, client, customer,  contractor or student

A person with an indirect relationship with the workplace such as an estranged spouse or partner, or a former employee

A person who is unrelated to the organization such as a member of the public or a person with criminal intent

Workplace violence also brings a high cost to employers in terms of public image, increased absenteeism, lost productivity, high employee turnover, and increased insurance/compensation costs.

Management, take note. “Work place” is defined in the Canada Labour Code, Part II to mean “any place where an employee is engaged in work for the employee’s employer.” “Work place” includes any area where an employee is making a delivery for the employer, any location where an employee is providing a service under the employer’s direction, and any mode of transportation (e.g., train plane) where the employee is traveling in the course of business. It does not include parking lots not controlled by the employer, modes of transportation for employees travelling outside working hours (e.g., going to or from work) or locations hosting non-mandatory recreational activities that may be sponsored by the employer such as a company picnic or golf tournament.

Our law enforcement, judicial system, healthcare system and penal system are all impacted by workplace violence – from strangers, customers, spouses, ex-employees or current staff-on-staff violence. This article will touch on targeted violence prevention (continuum ranges from bullying, to lethal threat/act) to an individual employee(s) or corporate/non-profit or religious entity. A threat of targeted violence can be defined as including the following three components:

An identified and/or unidentified aggressor (individual, individuals or group)

An identified target, including individual(s), organization, facility or another identifiable entity

A threat/act which appears planned, purposeful, and specific and with the potential  to escalate to an actual act of violence

David Fowler, writes in, Violence in the Workplace, “Creating a physically safe environment for employees has been shown to minimize threats to employees, guests and clients/customers”. As an expert in the field, he advises (in addition to Administrative Protocols and Behavioral Training) Crime Prevention through Environmental Design or CPTED, for short and includes a worksite audit/analysis, Panic Alarms, Access Controls, Safety Mirrors, CCTV/Cameras, Staff Identification and Physical Lighting. His AVADE® principles and learning objectives are easy to share and post within your small business or bolster your enterprise-wide readiness. Awareness, Vigilance, Avoidance, Interpersonal Communications, Defense of Self and Others, Stress Management, Time & Distance, Escape Planning, Environmental Factors, Emergency Codes & Procedures, are taught and retained.

Mr. Fowler provides these quick-reference figures for the following threat/attack circumstances. Being faced with a weapon is terrifying; know what to do ahead of time!
Unarmed Attacks – You need at least four to six feet, which will give you time to escape from an attack. Variables that can affect this are environment (design) and your physical ability.

Clubs and Sticks – Studies have shown that individuals with weapons can cover a distance of twenty-one feet in approximately 1.5 seconds.

“Own the Door” – the concept of “Own the Door” is to not allow others between you and the door (your escape route) when dealing with individuals who are in crisis; i.e. angry, highly stressed, recently terminated, intoxicated or combative.

Guns – In an active shooter situation, the best defense is to seek cover. Examples of cover: locations such as a safe room, behind a large barrier that is impenetrable, away from the area in stairwells, elevators, etc. Without the ability to seek cover, your best defense is to ESCAPE. Move! Run zig zag, jump, and keep moving away until you are in a covered position.

What we know about active shooters:

The active shooter is acting alone 98% of the time.

He is suicidal 90% of the time, usually commits suicide on-site.

He almost never takes hostages, nor has any interest in negotiating. Is preoccupied with a high body count, which is almost always his one and only goal.

Active-shooters race to murder everybody they reach in an effort to avoid contact with police.

Most incidents are over within four minutes or less!

Shooter usually has multiple weapons and an ability to re-load his weapons several times.

Long arms (rifles/shotguns) are involved 80% of the time.

High prediction of serious injury to the innocent and un-armed.

At least 50% of the time, the person stopping the incident is non-police.

Kevin Calder, Founder of K Calder & Associates, states, “Worker-on-Worker violence makes many organizations uncomfortable, especially in a union environment.

Interestingly union members are often at the greatest risk of this type of violence”. Companies are “uncomfortable” as privacy must be weighed in relation to threat. Human Resource divisions in major corporations are capable of, and permitted to conduct Enterprise-wide and Individual-focused workplace violence risk assessments.

Mr. Calder also references the Violent True Believer – a phrase coined by forensic psychiatrist Dr. J. Reid Meloy, as a threat. Wikipedia defines a violent true believer as an individual dedicated to an ideology or belief system advocating homicide and suicide as legitimate means of advancing a particular cause.  Kevin Calder, CPP can be reached at 604-524-1261 or [email protected]

The Canadian Association of Threat Assessment Professionals also identifies Cyber-Attacks as a risk to companies – and certainly these can be done by staff, ex-staff, partners and ex-partners of staff or outside radicals. 

For those wanting to attend a conference on this subject CATAP is hosting their annual conference in beautiful Whistler, British Columbia, October 20-24, 2014.

I wish to sincerely thank Lynn Cook for taking time beyond the presentation timeframe, beyond just a follow-up appointment for more information – for many more take-away resources used to empower myself on this subject and provide more opportunities within the community for others to learn these life-saving skills.

As Manager of Lexxon Training, Lynn’s primary focus lies in the ongoing development and evolution of Lexxon’s suite of training programs best suited to meet the needs of its diverse client base. With over 25 years management and HR experience, Lynn knows the training landscape well. She can be reached toll-free 1.855.215.5527 or [email protected]

Your two action items tasked to you at the conclusion of this article:

1.    Assessment training provided to a small team of your managers

2.    Awareness training given to all staff.

R. Brent Lang, CIM FCSI, is a subject-matter specialist in finance, philanthropy, social enterprise, event & festival management. He enjoys contributing to enterprising non-profit organizations with an emphasis on social entrepreneurship, planned giving, community impact / donor-relations and board governance.

Statistics Canada, 2009, General social survey on victimization, 2009,