Don’t Be Afraid of Workplace Violence — Be Proactive

Journalist Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were murdered while they were reporting the news live for Roanoke, Virginia’s WDBJ station.

Although this was one of the most visible incidents — it happened on live TV — it’s far from the only case of workplace violence. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50 percent of businesses with more than 1,000 employees experience incidents of workplace violence each year. A 2014 report from the FBI found that active shooter incidents in the U.S. now occur, on average, once every three weeks, with 46 percent of them occurring at a businesses.

“There seems to be this kind of behavior that those numbers are acceptable, that that’s what happens in a bigger organization,” said Jeremiah Hart, director of Force Training Institute, a workplace safety organization. “I don’t believe it has to be like that at all.”

Hart talked with Chief Learning Officer about the right — and wrong — ways learning leaders implement workplace safety education. Edited excerpts follow.

Why is there such pushback on workplace safety training?

Most people at the top of these organizations are smart people and know intuitively that this type of training — the way you communicate it to employees and the strategies you implement in your organization — it’s very easy to do it wrong.

What’s the wrong way to do safety training?

It’s being done wrong any time it’s fear-based, it scares people, and it’s unannounced. There’s a feeling that people need to know how scary it is, that you need to come in shooting blanks. When you do a fire drill, you don’t set things on fire — you train much safer. Stay away from fear. Stay in the area of building people’s confidence.

How do you build employees’ confidence through training, and why is it important?

If people don’t have options, they can’t make choices. Do your people know what to do if someone came in with a firearm? If you give your people options of what to do in that situation, they can make choices. We don’t rise to our expectations, but we always fall to the level of our training.

Knowledge increases confidence, confidence increases decisiveness, and it is decisive action in a critical incident that saves lives.

What else should leaders keep in mind when teaching workplace safety practices?

Depending on the industry, everyone has a different tolerance level for the discussion, the dialogue and the way to push out training when it comes to safety and violence. Make sure the safety principles you put in place are integrated into your culture.

A good company to look at that does an amazing job for security but never sacrifices experience is Disney. Disneyland or Disney World — the security there is amazing. It’s integrated into the culture so it enhances your safety but it doesn’t stand in the way.

That’s the most important thing to look at — let’s start with who we are, our culture and our values, and how does that connect to the safety principles. That way you’ll have longer lasting behavior changes in the organization.

Do you see the increasing amount of violence, such as the shooting in Virginia, affecting the way organizations view safety training?

We’ve had a lot of events in the past that to this day I find hard to deal with. Sandy Hook — emotionally I was broken from that. That had to be the one as a country where we said “Enough’s enough,” and you have people out there who have fought for it. But the change that I thought would come didn’t.

Look at the Aurora shooting. I follow that case very closely, and just listening to the testimony of what’s happened in court, you hear how people’s lives are affected forever. Once that emotional connection is made, once you really start to understand this isn’t a one-day event, that it destroyed lives, then you start to move into a place of action where we have to do something. So yes, the recent shootings are at least going to increase the dialogue. I hope that gets people to start moving toward action.

This article originally appeared in Talent Management's sister publication, Chief Learning Officer