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Home > News > Correct Environment to Prevent “On-the-Job Time Bomb” 

Editorial: Employers Must Create the Correct Environment to Prevent “On-the-Job Time Bomb”

Management Often Out of Loop with Realities of
Work Environment and Workplace Violence

Indianapolis, Indiana (Jan. 29, 2007) - On January 22, 2007, The Indianapolis Star published an article titled “On-the-Job Time Bomb” that dealt with the topic of violence in the workplace.

The article was written, at least in part, as a result of the recent workplace shootings of four employees by a co-worker that occurred at a facility on the east side of Indianapolis.

The article was made some excellent points concerning the prevention of workplace violence and it pointed out several “warning signs” employers should be aware of and alert for to detect if an employee may be a threat to himself or others.

In addition, the article mentioned several strategies to deter workplace violence, such as having policies and prevention measures in place to prevent violent episodes from occurring.

Unfortunately, the article did not address, in a meaningful manner, one of the most consequential aspects of preventing workplace violence from becoming a tragic reality.

As an investigator with more than 25 years experience in responding to violent workplace events and designing loss prevention programs to reduce the likelihood of such situations, it has been demonstrated repeatedly that management is often “out of the loop” when it comes to a full understanding of the realities of their employee’s work environment. As long as this situation continues to exist, future violent acts in the workplace will continue to alarm and sadden us all.

Several excerpts from the “Time Bomb” article support this unfortunate and dangerous reality.  The author writes that the “incident sent a shock wave through local offices” in the Indianapolis area. She continues by indicating that “employers began flipping through company handbooks” to be “sure they had policies and precautionary measures in place to prevent similar incidents at their companies”. There-in lies the true issue and real opportunity to cause a safer work environment for all.

Allow me to explain. Unfortunately, an employer (and all levels of the management and supervisory staff) who doesn’t know if their company has pro-active measures in place, cannot have them in place by the very definition of what a truly pro-active program entails. It is the equivalent of claiming to be a safe driver and then checking to see if your seat-belt is fastened.

A truly pro-active workplace violence prevention program entails training and educating employees and management alike on warning signs for violent behavior, as the article points out.  In addition, companies need to develop avenues for communication of pertinent information and importantly, that information must be channeled and responded to in a timely and appropriate manner, also points addressed in the article.

But those are not easy or simple processes to ingrain in a work-force, and reading a handbook about it is no substitute for actually doing it. Again, referring to the article, the company where this recent violent outbreak occurred “had a written policy banning firearms at work, verbal abuse of co-workers and violence”. Clearly the written policy did not suffice in this situation. So, what went wrong?

Summit Loss Prevention Consulting assists employers who are faced with the necessary task of designing and implementing measures to prevent workplace violence. It is critical to educate and train the managers, supervisors and employees by structuring the training in ways that place each distinct group in real-work scenarios.

Role playing is extremely beneficial for this aspect of employee training because it causes the trainees to:

  1. Witness a potential threat situation
  2. Think critically about what they observed
  3. Make decisions about their appropriate response
  4. Actually communicate the information to other parties as the prevention program requires

There is no substitute for actual experience.

In addition to employee orientation and training, supervisor training and awareness of their important role in responding to their own observations or those reported by their subordinates is vital for any program to be successful. Far too often, investigations conducted after the fact reveal that information known to supervisors and/or mid-level managers that should have been acted on or referred for action simply wasn’t.

Again the question is raised – why didn’t someone intervene? In most of these scenarios the answer is some combination of:

  1. The supervisor wasn’t fully aware of his (or her) job responsibilities
  2. He (or she) didn’t feel the information they possessed warranted action
  3. They were apprehensive about how their involvement might impact them, or
  4. They didn’t feel compelled to act based on another work-related experience they had been through. 

In many cases the supervisor simply chooses the most expedient response, regardless of the situation. Upper-level managers who become aware of potentially violent situations must be trained to determine if the situation presents an acute risk of physical harm (requiring quick, specific response action) or if it should be treated as a threatening situation (requiring a non-emergency response).

Untrained, inexperienced or over-zealous managers have unwittingly escalated workplace issues which resulted in a violent altercation when a professional intervention would have been the more appropriate response.

An organization sincerely interested in meeting these difficult and all-to-real challenges will implement a Loss Prevention Program with appropriate training (including recurrent training) for all employees, supervisors and management.

The training should include role playing opportunities in real-work scenarios. Supervisor’s and manager’s training should be focused on their specific responsibilities, including an awareness of warning signs to look for, and promoting open communication between the employees and themselves.

Additionally, management must understand their critical role in assessing potentially violent outbursts and learn to respond to situations they encounter in the most safe, appropriate manner to avoid unnecessarily escalating an otherwise controlled incident.

Organizations must realize that successful workplace violence prevention programs do not exist only on paper or in theory. Awareness, deterrence, observation skills, decision making capabilities, timely communication and proper response techniques are all by-products of a healthy work environment that is caused, not accidentally occurring.

Tony Jarana
Summit Loss Prevention Consulting



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