Despite some high-profile cases of workplace violence in recent years—like last week’s shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. that killed 13, including the suspected shooter—many companies continue to do little to protect their employees from it.
A recent poll by Zogby Analytics found that 42 percent of employees report that their workplace has no entrance security—meaning anyone can come and go from the premises as they please. The poll was conducted on 751 Americans over the summer. Surprisingly, 94 percent of those polled said they felt safe at their workplace, even though security was scarce or lacking altogether. Nineteen percent of employees surveyed said they felt their workplace security was inadequate.
“Companies are turning a blind eye to serious threats of violence,” said Frank Kenna III, president of workplace signage maker Marlin Company, which commissioned the survey. "It’s almost a cliche that everyone says they feel safe until someone who is after money, drugs, domestic revenge or who is grossly impaired comes in, perhaps with a weapon, and causes a tragedy.”
The Zogby poll found lack of workplace entrance security varied by region and by business type. Workers in the Midwest (54 percent) reported the biggest lack of security at their workplace while those in the eastern and southern U.S. regions reported somewhat more, with only about one-third lacking entrance security at work.
Government statistics suggest that violence at work is quite common. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported that 767 worker deaths, or 17 percent, of the total U.S. workplace fatalities in 2012 were a result of violence. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that more than 572,000 cases of nonfatal violent crimes—rape, robbery or assault—occurred at workplaces in 2009.
Security experts say employers can do much more to prevent workplace violence. It’s not just about monitoring and preventing strangers from walking in the door. Larry Barton, who teaches threat assessment and crisis management at the FBI Academy, said that businesses must be on the lookout for employees who seem disgruntled or may be experiencing emotional or psychological turmoil that could spill into the workplace. Reaching out to emotionally distressed employees and encouraging them to get professional help can help prevent violence and aggression at work.
Creating guidelines for how to reach out to disgruntled or emotionally distressed employees and teaching employees what signs to watch out for—and asking them to report any concerns about colleagues—can also be especially beneficial.
“Anyone who’s been a victim [of domestic violence] or someone who’s in a recent breakup, a marital dispute or a divorce … those are some of the cases we watch for,” Barton told EHSToday. “Most people, if they go to the doctor or counselor, [are] going to get through their life problems. But if you ignore a person who is sharing these issues, you could potentially have a volatile situation on your hands."
Read more articles about managing employees.