ARE YOU SAFE ATWORK?
Like it or not, workplace violence is “a thing.” It’s always been an issue on some level, but it seems to have regularly gotten to the point at which, rather than having to be concerned about flying staplers or fisticuffs in a cubicle, it ends with one or more GSWS and a ton of media coverage. Of course, the mainstream media gives these unfortunate events a lot of play, because they boost ratings and fit their agenda ... but we’ll leave that topic for another time. As I recall, I became aware of serious workplace violence as the spate of U.S. Postal Service-related shootings mounted in the mid-1980s. There’s no doubt that similar events occurred in other industries, but the common theme, other than the connection with the Postal Service, was that the perpetrators were past or current disgruntled employees. While it’s likely that mental and emotional issues contributed significantly to these crimes, the primary impetus was job and general workplace dissatisfaction and conflicts with supervisors. Because a primary reason for employee resignations in most occupations is unhappiness with a supervisor, it’s easy to see how this situation affects more organizations than just the Post Office. Whether the triggers in these violent confrontations were valid, understandable or inane isn’t the point; what’s important to recognize is that “innocent bystanders,” as well as the offender’s specific targets, were caught in the carnage. Some of those who were injured or killed suffered that fate because they attempted to stop or restrain the culprits. However, most were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and failed to take effective action to protect themselves. If you’re concerned about workplace violence or other threats to your safety and security and how they can be minimized or prepared for at work, I suggest you read Sean Curtis’ article in this issue (“Wisdom in the Workplace," beginning on page 22). As part of his role at work, Sean recently performed a workplace risk assessment, and he shares a number of useful suggestions for making all work environments less susceptible to risk. As well as internal and external human concerns, Sean’s evaluation included natural and industrial threats to the safety and security of the workers in his building. Be sure to include those hazards in your own evaluation, should you decide to perform or promote one. The degree to which your employer takes workplace security and safety seriously can be a complicated subject. If you feel their preparations lack in ways you can’t overlook or overcome, you might consider asking them to have a bona fide risk analysis performed and upgrading their employee safety plan as appropriate. Even performing a once- or twice-annual fire or evacuation drill is a good, low-cost effort that could also expose areas of concern that would cause management to take the topic more seriously. Many companies are either too small, too frugal or they are basically disinterested in employee safety concerns to provide any substantial protection from external or internal threats. If that’s the case, you ought to consider what you can do on your own to improve your situation—without causing concerns about you among your co-workers or leadership. The simple act of discreetly keeping a get-home bag or emergency kit at your workspace will enhance your ability to address adverse situations. If your concerns are grave, and you don’t feel your employer is interested in providing a safe and secure workplace, you should consider finding another place to work or seek opportunities that allow you to work from home. Teleworking is growing faster than the workforce is expanding; so, depending on your occupation, you might be able to literally be the “master” of your workspace. No matter what steps your employer takes to minimize the potential threats to your safety and security, this is your responsibility first. Chances are, you spend over 25 percent of your week at work and commuting. From the time you head to your job, do everything you can to ensure you’ll get home again—safe and sound.