Construction equipment outside of where the Lanza home sat on March 24, 2015.

Construction equipment outside of where the Lanza home sat on March 24, 2015. Photo by WVIT

Earlier this week, the former home of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza was demolished by state officials in the hope of aiding the healing process.

It is obvious why school shootings get so much attention and stay in our memories longer than other workplace shootings but a 2014 FBI Active Shooter Study showed the other workplaces also seem to draw violent attacks. One of those industries is health care.

At Workforce.com, Tim K. Garrett relates a story:

Like many incidents that cause sorrow and suffering in a workplace, nothing seemed out of the ordinary at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston on a fateful day in January.

According to an account in The Boston Globe, a 55-year-old man, Stephen Pasceri, drove to the hospital that morning to confront a cardiologist who had operated on the man’s mother a few months earlier; she died a month later. The man was insistent on seeing the cardiologist, but did not appear visibly enraged or upset, according to reports. However, police said the man later shot the cardiologist dead in an exam room before killing himself.

Garrett’s article, Subduing Violence at Work: Setting Policies to Help Safeguard the Workplace, goes onto to describe the challenges facing health care sites. It is worth a quick read.

Over at DentistryIq.com, Paul Edwards writes an excellent article, Preparing for the unthinkable: Violence in the workplace, detailing some of the steps The Soteria Group suggests for health care workplaces (although we were not contacted for that article). Quoting from Edwards:

1. Conduct a risk assessment of your work environment – Are there back door exits that are unlocked from the inside during office hours? Would they be convenient escape routes? Is there adequate lighting in the hallways, parking lots, and entryways? Are there decorative items in the reception area that could be used as weapons? At what times of day might employees be most at risk?
2. Don’t ignore warning signs – Most people who commit violent acts communicate before they carry out their plan. Is there an employee who is acting unusually paranoid, is fixated on violence or weapons, is socially isolated, or is being hypercritical of coworkers, supervisors, or office procedures? Has a patient made threats, either verbally, by email, phone, or in writing? Does a third-party vendor have a family member who’s been making threats of violence? Is an employee involved in a domestic dispute in which he or she has been subjected to stalking, threats, or physical violence at home?
3. Take the “zero tolerance” approach – Employees need to receive clear instructions that any threatening communication or behavior, whether from another employee, a patient, a family member, or anyone else, must be reported to management immediately. Management must take some action after receiving a report, i.e., investigate and document at a minimum.
4. Plan, plan, plan! – Use the team approach to deal with a potential workplace violence episode. Give each employee a task and go through a trial run, like a fire drill, so that everyone has the opportunity to practice his or her role. Sometimes local police offer free or low-cost training in violence preparedness. Call your local authorities to inquire.

Workplace violence preparation and training: Tips for your emergency plan:

Just in case your team ever does face a sudden, violent event in the workplace, all employees need to be as prepared and trained as possible. The best way to accomplish this is to plan your office’s response. Make sure all employees have clear and concise instructions for handling such a situation.

Also, discuss during training the fact that some people show visible signs of violence before acting out. While no one expects office staff to read early warning signs to the same degree a trained psychologist would, many signals are obvious and at least raise a red flag or warrant careful monitoring.

At a minimum, go over an emergency procedure with your employees and hold a mock workplace violence drill to make sure everyone knows and understands what to do.

Here’s a list of topics to discuss and decide on before the drill:

• Establish an emergency code. In the event that someone enters the office exhibiting behavior that indicates possible violence, the emergency code will alert everyone to the situation. The code is whatever you choose.
• Designate staff to give the alarm and respond. Example: When the designated staff person (usually the receptionist) pages everyone with the emergency code, another designated staff person will respond immediately by calling 9-1-1.
• Instruct employees what to do in case of robbery. Example: Hand over all cash and cooperate fully.
• Require all employees to report threats made by anyone, a patient, family member, etc.
• Assure confidentiality for any employees who report threats.

Remember, while workplace violence is hard to think about, and the topic may be stressful to address with employees, disaster is not the only possible outcome. There are also situations in which potentially harmful situations have been prevented, calmed down, and safely resolved, especially when there was advance preparation.

More than 70% of U.S. workplaces lack a procedure or policy addressing workplace violence, so let’s change that statistic right now and make the workplace safer.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. If you’d like to take Soteria’s free vulnerability assessment for your health care workplace, please click here.  We specialize in designing work sites, modifying existing sites, training your staff and more. We’re here to help.