How to Be Prepared for Workplace Violence

Don Moseman, a master instructor for the North Dakota Safety Council, outlined during an NSC 2018 session some of the policies and practices employers should use.

HOUSTON – Employers should have a written emergency action plan – OSHA's 1910.38 standard requires it of employers with more than 10 workers – and should train their workers on that plan, a presenter told his audience during an Oct. 24 technical session at the National Safety Council's Congress & Expo here. Don Moseman, a master instructor for the North Dakota Safety Council, explained how to recognize someone who may be on the brink of a violent episode, such as a workplace shooting, and some of the policies and practices employers should use.

Staffers should be trained to recognize common stress indicators and to notice the objects co-workers are bringing to the workplace, as well as threatening comments made to fellow staffers or posted online.

Moseman, who trains school districts nationwide, said he has studied 124 mass shooting incidents and not found one that was a spur of the moment incident – all involved some amount of planning. He said the shooters usually follow a three-step progression: They feel trapped, usually because of either family troubles or financial difficulties; their work quality declines, they're weary of management and co-workers, and they may complain constantly about work and isolate themselves from others; they plan the event, conducting surveillance and research, and most even share what they intend to do with someone else, he said.

Most mass shooting incidents are over quickly. As for what stops the shooters, he said 45 percent of these incidents are self-ended (suicide), 45 percent are ended by a victim or observer, and 10 percent are ended by law enforcement intervention. "We need to understand that it's statistically likely that you will have no help," he explained.

He said companies' policies should address these five key areas:

  • They should describe what the employer defines as acceptable workplace behavior.
  • They should outline reporting systems that employees are to use.
  • They should include formation of a team to review and investigate complaints.
  • They should explain how an accused employee will be addressed during the investigation of a complaint against him or her.
  • They should address possible outcomes following the investigation.

Human resources needs to play an active role in applying the policies, he said, adding that HR departments themselves are often the targets of an employee's, or a terminated employee's, anger and potential violence.

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