Guns and Workplace Violence
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 500 workplace homicides in 2016 – an increase of 83 cases from 2015 and the highest total since 2010.
As in previous years, most of these deaths were caused by one person deliberately shooting another. In 2016, there were 394 workplace homicides involving a firearm.
If someone entered your construction site and started shooting, would your employees know what to do? No workplace is immune to the possibility and statistics show this type of workplace violence is actually increasing. Gun violence in the workplace, including construction sites, can run the gamut from robberies to domestic abuse to disgruntled employees. The latter is what happened at a New York City construction site last year, when a recently fired construction worker shot his former boss and then killed himself.
“Senseless acts of violence have occurred in schools, night clubs, churches, government offices, manufacturing plants, shopping centers and many other places,” said Jim Smith, president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE). “As occupational safety and health professionals, we must help employers pursue preventive measures and help get more people trained to recognize and report warning signs in order to mitigate risks.”
As with any potential construction site emergency, whether it’s a fire or someone suffering a heart attack, it’s important to have a plan before these events occur and communicate that plan to employees so they know how to respond. Studies show that in a crisis, trained employees act, while untrained workers are more likely to panic or freeze. In the event of an active shooter, this can put them and others at increased risk.
Active shooter situations are fast-moving events that are often over within minutes, while emergency assistance is still on the way. This is why it’s especially important that workers know how to deal with the situation before first responders arrive.
Training Workers: Run If You Can, Hide If You Can’t, Fight If You Must
When creating an emergency action plan and training workers to handle an active shooter situation, involve local law enforcement early in the process. In addition to helping employers design an active shooter drill specific to your worksite, law enforcement can also make recommendations on key parts of the action plan, such as routes of egress and a rally point for workers to meet after getting to safety.
Law enforcement also has the training and knowledge necessary to educate workers about what they should and shouldn’t do in the event of an active shooter. This training is likely to mirror recommendations from the Department of Homeland Security, which suggests workers take the following actions in order:
Leave the area and get out of harm’s way immediately. Do not stop to gather belongings or other items – they are not worth your life. Run with your hands free so that law enforcement arriving on scene does not mistake you as the shooter.
When you can, call 911. Don’t assume someone else has already called. Always follow instructions when law enforcement arrives.
If you can’t run to safety, find a place to hide, such as an office trailer, other lockable structure or behind large equipment or trees.
Act against the shooter only as a last resort. Employers should discourage employees from getting involved when running or hiding are still viable options. Taking matters into your own hands and “being the hero” may sound appealing, but your chances of success are very slim, and doing so increases your chances of being mistaken as the perpetrator when others arrive on scene.
Awareness Is Part of Prevention
Most workplace shootings and other violence on the job are carried out by current or former co-workers and are seldom “out of the blue.” Employers should establish a chain of command that allows employees to report issues confidentially. Encourage employees to trust their instincts and say something if a situation doesn’t seem right. Behavior changes like the ones below don’t necessarily mean a violent act is about to occur, but they may suggest something is amiss and should be reported.
- Attendance problems
- Concentration problems (e.g., easily distracted, trouble recalling instructions)
- Disregard for personal safety
- Unusual behavior (e.g., inappropriate comments, threats, marked changes in personal hygiene)
- Evidence of possible drug or alcohol use/abuse
The fallout from these incidents can profoundly affect employees and employers alike. In addition to the tragic loss of life caused by the event itself, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder among workers who experience or witness a violent event can affect mental health, productivity and workplace morale. When traumatic injuries or fatalities occur on the job, the LHSFNA encourages all employers to hold critical incident stress debriefings (CISDs) to help affected workers deal with the emotional impact of these incidents. For more information or for help arranging a CISD on your jobsite, contact your local TriFund Field Coordinator or the Fund’s Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]