Emergency Preparedness, Safety, Security

A Three-Part Strategy for Workplace Violence Programs

In August of 1986, a postal employee threatened with losing his job walked into a post office with a mailbag full of guns and ammunition and opened fire. He did not say a word—he just started shooting and killing.

Six postal workers were wounded, and 14 were killed. That was one of several shootings that took place in post offices around the country over the years.

Initially, these were just called mass shootings and workplace violence, which just so happened to occur in postal facilities. But then, in December 1993, a writer for the St. Petersburg Times gave the shootings a name. In an article he wrote about a symposium held by the U.S. Postal Service to investigate the massacres, he referred to them as being caused by workers “going postal.” The Los Angeles Times picked up on the term in their 1993 Year in Review.

The term was convenient and soon evolved. For several years, anytime there was an incident where someone went on a shooting rampage, the term was used to describe the shooters. But by the late 1990s, it faded out. However, what has not faded out is workplace violence. In 2020, the National Safety Council reported that there were 20,500 assaults in the workplace, causing nearly 400 fatalities. The pandemic has aggravated this situation and is now blamed for even more shootings, killings, and massacres.

Instead of referring to shooters as going postal, they are now called “active shooters.” The U.S. Department of Homeland Security refers to an active shooter as “someone actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

Having such an incident happen in their facilities is a concern all facilities managers and security professionals have today. More than that, they are also troubled by the fact that they may not know how to prevent one from happening or what to do should an active shooting event occur.

To help us address these and more concerns, I turned to Oscar Villanueva, COO of TAL Global, an international security consulting and risk management firm, to provide some clarification and give us some answers.

Oscar, I understand you worked for the Postal Service and the law enforcement arm of the agency, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, so you are undoubtedly familiar with the term “going postal.”

Yes. I worked with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service as an agent manager and executive for 22 years, conducting and managing criminal investigations, including workplace violence, and working to develop policies for the agency focused on keeping employees safe and secure. And I remember the days the term “going postal” was ubiquitous and associated with workplace violence shootings. The Postal Service had many workplace violence issues at that time, causing major concerns from a safety and security perspective, as you can imagine. So, the agency worked hard to devise effective solutions to address these challenges.

Oscar Villanueva

Were the solutions you came up with specific to the Postal Service?

Not at all. The solutions the agency developed have become the gold standard in workplace violence prevention, mitigation, and management, and are now being used widely in all types of facilities, from schools and universities to office buildings, manufacturing facilities, and warehouses.

OK, then they can help the readers of Facilities Management Advisor. What are some of the solutions you developed?

The Postal Service developed a comprehensive and very effective workplace violence program that is still in use today. This program has been emulated widely and is in many ways the core of what the present-day approach to workplace violence is today. Working at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and now with a security consulting firm, I’ve learned there are many ways to minimize the possibility of workplace violence and mitigate risk. The top three methods or things that an organization must do include:

  1. Putting together a workplace violence program;
  2. Ensuring that employees, managers, and supervisors are trained on implementing the program; and
  3. Taking steps to ensure the facility is secure.

So far, these three steps have worked for many organizations in different industries, large and small.

Let’s examine some of these points more closely. What is a workplace violence program?

 A workplace violence prevention, mitigation, and management program include:

  • Policies regarding how an organization should manage workplace violence issues;
  • Procedures they should follow to investigate and oversee complaints and incidents;
  • Assigning responsibilities for who does what should an incident occur;
  • Understanding how to respond to these complaints and incidents; and
  • Understanding the need for behavioral health support for victims and employees and how incorporating this into a response is essential.

It’s what an organization should do for its employees, and in many ways, it’s like a playbook of what to do and who should do what.

And the training component?

The second part of this three-part strategy is to educate all workers about workplace violence, security, and situational awareness. Everyone needs to understand workplace violence, its triggers, and the warning signs. We then educate everyone on how to deal with these situations should they happen. Having everyone involved, educated, and trained is essential. There should also be separate training for managers and supervisors to manage these situations when they occur.

How do we take steps to ensure facility security?

Security is vital as the third leg of a three-legged stool to help prevent and mitigate workplace violence. Let’s say you have a workplace violence program in place, and you’ve trained everybody. All of that can be defeated if you have weak security at your facility because an active assailant may have less of a problem getting in. Criminal attacks become a bit easier when you don’t have a safe and secure facility.

To accomplish security in a facility, managers must, at least every year, have a security assessment conducted. The assessment, among other things, analyzes how people go in and out of the facility, along with visitor management; it includes observation of the parking lot and investigation of prior incidents at that facility. From there, the assessment will provide findings and recommendations and a strategy to address deficiencies in building security.

Earlier, we said the term “going postal” has faded out. Do you believe workplace violence is something that will also fade out in America?

I wish I could say yes, but no security consultant or firm could say that. Let’s look at the studies. No matter where you are on the issue, more states are allowing their citizens to carry more guns with few, if any, restrictions. Virtually every study conducted in the past 20 years reports that more guns do not reduce crime. Instead, more guns mean more homicides and, invariably, more workplace violence. 

Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning and building management industries.

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