In the past, providing a safe work environment meant preventing slippery floors and bad air quality. Now, safe-zones and evacuation routes also make the top of the list. Unfortunately, workplace violence is a reality for which we all must prepare and at any time an active shooter could enter our workplaces.
The FBI recently released a report revealing the number of active shooter incidents in the US increased by two-hundred and fifty percent from 2006 to 2013. Tragically, these events have occurred at an even greater rate over the last two years. With almost seventy percent of violent shootings occurring at businesses, schools or healthcare facilities, employers need to have a plan for how to prepare and respond for these types of threats.
Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states, “Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees, employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”
This section has been referred to as the General Duty Clause and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has used the clause as a catchall to ensure workplace safety when no other standard exists for a prevalent hazard. However, because an active shooter attack is now eighteen times more likely to occur than a fire at a place of business, several courts have recently ruled that an active shooter in the workplace should now be considered a recognized hazard.
In addition, OSHA Standard 1910.38 states that, “All employers with more than ten employees must have an emergency action plan that includes procedures for emergency evacuation based on the type of event”. So, in today’s environment, just having fire evacuation maps posted on the walls is no longer sufficient.
A new part of life safety
The question I am most often asked is, “How do we educate employees about the possibility of active shooters in the workplace without causing undue stress?” My answer is, present this delicate topic to employees under the larger umbrella of life safety. You already prepare your employees for the unlikely event of a fire or weather-related disaster because it is the responsible thing to do. Most employees have been through fire and disaster drills since they were school children. Staff members understand why these drills are necessary, which makes it more seamless to introduce active shooter awareness as the third piece of a complete life safety program.
This is made even easier by the fact that more schools are conducting these types of drills, so employees, as parents of these students, are already fielding questions from their children about these drills and their necessity. One word of caution, however; if your company does not currently conduct fire and disaster awareness and drills, you should avoid leading with active shooter preparedness. Speeding from no life safety training directly to active shooter awareness drills will more than likely agitate your employees. In these situations, I recommend that a company start with fire and inclement weather drills and once that is part of your normal routine add in active shooter awareness.
Training: the basics
Use a method that is already familiar to your staff when you incorporate active shooter awareness into your existing life safety program. As a child, you likely learned this simple fire safety technique; Stop, Drop and Roll. It is an easy-to-remember phrase that tells a person what to do if their clothes are on fire. There is a similar technique for active shooter incidents; Run, Hide, Fight.
• Run: The first goal is to leave the building, if safe to do so. Know the specific route or routes you plan to take.
• Hide: If leaving is not an option, find someplace safe to hide. Find a room with a door that locks from the inside, like an office or a conference room. If none of the doors have locks, find a room without windows. In all instances, find somewhere to hide and barricade the door if you have time.
• Fight: If you cannot leave the building, hiding is not an option and your life is in immediate danger, then it is recommended that you try to distract, stun, or overwhelm the shooter.
The Department of Homeland Security and the City of Houston have created a very powerful, free, six-minute video on the Run, Hide, Fight approach that should be shown to all of your employees.
The legal obligation of employers to provide a safe working environment for employees will continue to evolve, and so will workplace violence and the best practices in dealing with these type of events. By incorporating these Life Safety briefing changes into your existing program, employees should be able to adopt them with minimal disruption and angst to your workforce.
James Green is a business continuity and risk management professional. He has worked on risk events that have occurred all over the globe, with varied incidents from the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 to the nuclear reactor disaster in Fukushima, Japan. He holds the Certified Business Continuity Professional designation from the Disaster Recovery Institute and is also recognized as an Enterprise Risk Management Expert by the Credit Union National Association. James is a sought after speaker, and has been interviewed by multiple publications, on the topic of active shooters in the workplace.