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Workplace shootings: How will your company respond?

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2 people are killed each day America as a result of workplace violence, and freight companies are not immune

It’s a topic no one likes to talk about, and certainly one that everybody believes will not happen to them, yet statistics show it is increasing. We’re talking about violence in the workplace – shootings, stabbings, suspicious packages and other means of violence.

According to Bo Mitchell, there are more than 1,300 deaths per year as a result of “intimate partner violence” and many of them occur in a workplace environment. Two people are killed each day in America in the workplace as a result of a firearm or knife attack.

UPS, FedEx, Knight Transportation, Pritchett Trucking, BSD Linehaul, and Watkins Motor Lines are among the companies in the freight world that have had to deal with workplace violence in recent years. And this is just a partial list. Google “shooting” and “trucking company” and the search engine returns nearly 300,000 results on the subject.

This is clearly not an isolated problem. And shootings are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to workplace violence. Suspicious packages occupy more law enforcement time than ever before. Just this year there was the suspect who was leaving package bombs on doorsteps in Texas, one of those was at at a FedEx facility.

“This is the scenario that scores of police chiefs all across the country are concerned with, the unattended backpack in a transportation hub or workplace,” Mitchell said. “What do you do?”

Mitchell served 16 years as police chief in Wilton, CT, before founding 911 Consulting in 2001. 911 Consulting provides emergency preparedness services to businesses and counts the American Trucking Associations (ATA) as well as hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, Cablevision, Eaton, ExxonMobil, Gartner, General Electric and Pratt & Whitney, which makes commercial and military jet engines, among its clients.

[The shooter Adam Lanza] tried to enter through the door, and through the speaker they said he couldn’t enter, so he took out his [semi-automatic] weapon and shot his way in. You can’t stop that kind of crazy.

— Bo Mitchell, founder of 911 Consulting

Mitchell took time this past week to discuss workplace violence in a webinar entitled “Active Shooters, Suspicious Packages & Bomb: How Do your Employees Respond?” put on by ATA’s Transportation Safety Council.

The key takeaway from his presentation is that you are unlikely to prevent violence, but you can prepare for it, and some of that preparation starts with rooting out violence long before it manifests itself.

To illustrate his point, Mitchell detailed statistics and referenced the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, in 2012 – a shooting that left 20 children and 6 adults dead.

 “[The shooter Adam Lanza] tried to enter through the door, and through the speaker they said he couldn’t enter, so he took out his [semi-automatic] weapon and shot his way in,” Mitchell said. “You can’t stop that kind of crazy.”

The root of violence in the workplace, though, often starts in the workplace, Mitchell explained.

“What we seem to be ignoring is the daily workplace violence,” he said, showing a slide that listed what the Department of Justice classifies as workplace violence. These include discourtesy, disrespect, intimidation, harassment, retaliation and verbal assault among others. Each day, there are 2 murders, 26 rapes and 44 robberies that take place in American workplaces.

“We’ve done a lot about bullying in schools, but what have we done about bullying in the workplace,” Mitchell asked. Of all active shooter situations in America, 71% take place at workplaces, he added, but only 1 in 6 shooters are captured, the rest are either killed or commit suicide. According to the New York Police Department, 96% of shooters are male and 98% act alone, but the average shooting kills 3 and injures 3.6.

According to the Department of Justice, there were 2,173 homicides in workplaces from 2011 to 2015. Of those, 312 were committed by a co-worker or work associate, 247 by a student, patient, client or customer, and 160 by a relative or domestic partner. Robbers accounted for 721 of the assailants, 182 were committed by an inmate, detainee in custody or suspect not yet apprehended, and 551 were either unknown or another category.

One of the problems that prevents companies from planning appropriately for these types of situations is that most believe people just “snap.” That is not true, Mitchell said, and noted that working on culture can help lay the foundation for preventing a future attack.

“Not every bullied person becomes an active shooter, but every active shooter has been bullied, say all the [after-shooting reports],” he noted.

Companies can also fall into the trap of believing an active shooter or workplace violence won’t happen to them or that because they higher educated people, they are not at risk because educated people aren’t violent people. Neither is true, Mitchell told the webinar attendees. The most dangerous myth, he said, is that companies believe they are protected because they have a policy in place.

It’s important to have a plan, Mitchell said. In fact, it’s the law, according to OSHA regulations 29 CFR 1910.34 through 29 CFR 1910.39. Regulations 1910.38 and 1910.39 specifically require companies to “have an emergency action plan and fire prevention plan.” Mitchell does note that this requirement does not cover “mobile workplaces.”

“I’ve reviewed over 500 emergency action plans over the 17 years since I’ve started consulting and do you know how many have OSHA-compliant plans I’ve found? One,” he said.

Make sure your plan covers situations that include bomb threats, suspicious packages and shootings, and not just fires, he said. It’s also important to communicate that plan to your employees so they know what to do in certain situations. And most importantly, Mitchell said, don’t just tell your employees, actually train them because the first few minutes of any situation are critical and first responders won’t be there to help. The average workplace shooting is finished within 5 minutes, often before first responders even arrive.

“You’re on your own for the first four to five minutes and even when authorities respond, it’s initially going to be just one,” Mitchell said. “So, do you order your people to run or to hide?”

As crazy as it sounds, Mitchell said that companies and their executives have “a duty of care” under the law, which means they have a responsibility to prepare their workplaces for violence. In a 30-month period from 2015 through 2017, 11 CEOs were indicted with 8 going to prison and 6 senior managers – including safety managers – were indicted in four states alone because they didn’t prepare their companies properly prior to a workplace shooting that resulted in death.

As much as executives might think that some employee will lead the way when an emergency happens, that is most often not true. “People don’t rise to the occasion spontaneously, knowing what to do in an emergency,” Mitchell said. “They sink to their level of training.”

That training must include all employees as well as contractors who work inside your building. To assist in creating a plan, Mitchell advised webinar attendees to set up a channel of command (who will lead if the CEO or vice president is not able to?), create an emergency team that puts the plan into place, and set up proper communications. Do not rely on cell phones, he said, because they can go out during times of crisis, but have a plan that incorporates 2-way radios that allow for direct communication.

“Great plans are a smart thing, but training is everything,” he said. “If you can’t get the words off paper [you fail].”

Ultimately, Mitchell said to get out of the denial game and believe that the threats to your company and its people are real and put together an action plan to address this. This plan would include a threat assessment of current preparedness and training, although this should be done by an outside, independent professional, and speaking with your local police or sheriff departments.

“They will tell you what they do [in a situation], but they won’t tell you what you should do,” he said. “But talk to them so you understand what they do so you can make a better plan on what you should do.”

Your employees’ survival and your freedom may depend on it.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight leads FreightWaves' Modern Shipper brand as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler. You can reach him at [email protected]