What does OSHA recommend for Workplace Violence? SafeDefend

At the beginning of 2017 OSHA issued a directive to provide guidance to field inspectors when investigating workplace violence. The directive cancelled the previous instructions from 2011.  The importance for employers is that it basically provides a road map to follow when instituting policies and preventative measures to address the threat of exposure to workplace violence.  There are three general components that OSHA will be reviewing after an incident; administrative controls, environmental controls and employee training.

Under appendix A of the report there are a list of general recommendations for all industries and administrative workplaces. The list is quite simple to follow.  The issue that most employers fail to meet concerns employee notification.  At the top of the list is the importance of an alarm system with reliable response options.  At SafeDefend we have been espousing this exact thing for the workplace.  We have alarms for fire, weather and other hazards but don’t think to provide employees with notification in the event of a hostile intruder.  Overlooking this security measures has cost businesses millions of dollars in lawsuits and settlements after an exposure to a workplace violence incident.

Administrative controls refers to the policies and tracking of employee behavior. It is imperative that early recognition, documentation and intervention be a part of the employer’s responsibilities.  These programs have been shown to effectively reduce the incidents of workplace violence.  Empowering employees to report inappropriate behavior is instrumental in diffusing hostility before it can escalate.

As a subset of administrative controls a training component for all employees is vital. SafeDefend has been working with schools, governments, and businesses across the country to prepare staff to respond in the event of a hostile event.  Awareness of threats and an understanding of how to react can reduce casualties in a crisis.

The OSHA recommendations for workplace violence are universal to every workplace. The importance for employers is to recognize the need.  While the chances of a hostile intruder in your workplace are small, the failure to prepare can have catastrophic consequences in the loss of life and be terminal for the company.

The Students as the Shooter

The school year started off with the typical fanfare for students and teachers. Lost in the coverage of the hurricanes that hit the gulf coast were the stories about students bringing guns to school.  These stories suggest that there is a serious problem in our schools that we are not addressing.  Primarily, the internal threat in our schools from our students.  The underlying cause of these occurrences varies based on the individual case, but these incidents demonstrate that there is a crisis that needs addressing.  It is being met with the usual practice of adding cameras and securing doors.  The same approach that has failed to stop these events for the last 35 years.

It is understood that cameras and exterior security have a place in our schools. The surveillance addresses issues of theft, bullying, fighting, and vandalism.  In the instance of school violence, however, we have seen that most perpetrators indicate that they want the world to see what they have done.  The idea for them is that the shooter will become infamous for the actions taken and shown across the world. The recent shooting in Washington state at Freeman High School is a good example.  The student shooter has confessed to police that he wanted to teach everyone a lesson about bullying.  Like many other school shooters his intention was to not survive the attack.  The student shooter left a suicide note at his parents house before taking two guns to school in a duffel bag.  This atrocity was minimized, fortunately, by the malfunction of both weapons.  A massacre in the making was avoided.

The CDC puts out an annual report on Understanding School Violence.  The three page report is a must read.  The striking statistic is that students are arming themselves for protection.  Almost 1 out of every 20 students has brought some type of weapon to school in the last 30 days.  Administrators and elected officials need to start recognizing the only true deterrence is for the students to feel that the staff can protect them.  Empowerment of staff and quick notification to the police have been shown to halt hostile intruders.

According to the FBI Active Shooter (2012 with 2013 & 2014 supplements) report 84% of school shooters are students.  This percentage has only increased since the studies release as the disproportionate numbers of incidents with students as shooters have occurred.

The SafeDefend system was designed to specifically address the two components of alerting staff and police and providing options for response. Most student shooters are unprepared for resistance and confrontation.  Preparing staff to respond quickly in a crisis has been proven to reduce casualties and save lives.

Parent Perception of the Active Shooter Threat

An article in USA Today details the nature of perceptions of safety in our schools today.  At one high school the students started feeling unsafe due to a series of threats and fights.  The culmination was a series of warnings of potential violence.  As a result the school allowed parents to pull their children from class.  The broader implication is that even though the school has security measures in place the perception is that it isn’t enough and the children aren’t safe.  This is not an uncommon feeling across the country.

A Ball State University study recently showed that 1/3 of parents with children in school expect a shooting at their high school.  While the numbers don’t present this as likely it is the insecurity and uncertainty that must be addressed.  In the study there was an interesting finding;

“According to the study, parents said the most effective anti-gun violence school policies are as follows: installing an alert system in schools, working with law enforcement to design an emergency response plan, creating a comprehensive security plan…”

The best perceived response is not the typical response of enhanced surveillance and access control. Parents want to know that the staff is prepared to respond and that coordination with police is in place. More importantly they want an alert system in place to notify everyone of the crisis. These are the critical components of school safety that must be addressed.

Interesting to note is that the coordination, plans and alerts are already in place in our schools for fire and climactic events. Every state requires periodic training and drills on fire alarms, bus evacuation, and weather related emergencies. Nothing is required for the threat of a hostile threat in schools and yet this is the most common threat that our children will have to face during their educational careers.

At SafeDefend we have recognized for years the reality regarding a hostile threat. We understand that the risk of an intruder is low but at the same time recognize that it is an unpredictable possibility. It’s the uncertainty that we must address. Failing to prepare for a crisis means that when it occurs the results will be catastrophic. When parents hear of a school fire or weather event at school they are confident the school is prepared to protect their children. Most parents, however, don’t feel this is true for armed intruders. Schools and businesses need to start preparing for the 21st century threat of school and workplace violence that are both on the rise.