Preparing Your Workplace for an Active Shooter

Preparing Your Workplace for an Active Shooter

It’s an unfortunate fact: workplace violence isn’t new. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 14,770 American workers became workplace homicide victims between 1992 and 2012. And recent data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows there were 397 workplace homicides in 2013 alone—accounting for about 9 percent of all workplace deaths. Four-fifths of these victims died from gunshot wounds.

While you may not think it will ever happen in your office, factory, warehouse or other place of business, the FBI reports that 45.6 percent of active shooter incidents occur in commercial areas. If that isn’t enough to spur you to include this threat in your workplace safety plan, perhaps a potential lawsuit is. Several victims of active shooters have successfully sued their employers for negligence in failing to provide defensive training to their employees. Refusing to address the threat of an active shooter in your workplace may even be a violation of the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Teach your staff to recognize the warning signs.

The most common type of active shooter encountered in the workplace is a current or former employee or friend/relative of a current or former employee. Warning signs exhibited ahead of time may include:

  • Increasing belligerence, hypersensitivity or disorganization
  • Unexplained radical changes in behavior
  • Aggressive behavior such as pushing, yelling or threatening
  • Obsession with a particular supervisor or coworker
  • Anger at a particular supervisor or coworker
  • On-the-job dispute with a supervisor or coworker
  • Off-the-job difficulties such as bankruptcy or divorce
  • Frequent mention of weapons or high-profile workplace violence incidents

Encourage your staff to report these signs to their supervisor, security or law enforcement as appropriate.

Teach your staff to protect themselves in an active shooter event.

Most active shooter situations are unpredictable, evolve quickly and last mere minutes. Experts advise teaching your staff to assess the situation and evacuate, shelter-in-place, or fight accordingly.

Evacuate – This should be the primary means of defense, provided there is an accessible escape path. Include escape routes from every department in your workplace safety plan and run frequent practice drills. In the event of an active shooter, your staff should be able to quickly evacuate the premises and call 911.

Shelter-in-Place – Sometimes evacuation is not possible and your staff will need to find a safe hiding place. Include potential hiding places in your workplace safety plan and run frequent practice drills. Hiding places should be out of the active shooter’s line of sight and be easy to evacuate if the situation changes. Hiding places that allow your staff to lock doors or blockade doors with heavy furniture are optimal.

Fight – While you should advise your staff to fight only as a last resort, you may want to provide them with training on simple ways to distract or incapacitate an active shooter. Tactics can include yelling, hand-to-hand self-defense techniques, throwing objects and improvising weapons.

Last but not least, you should make sure your staff knows what to do when police arrive. When evacuating the building, instruct them to leave personal items behind and keep their hands up and visible. They should promptly follow all instructions given by law enforcement and avoid making quick movements towards officers.

The Department of Homeland Security has created an informative booklet for employers and employees on responding to an active shooter. You can download it here. And remember, we’re only a phone call or email away if you’d like a workplace safety program review or additional assistance.