Two terrible events in Orlando, Florida, rocked the country this weekend. Singer Christina Grimmie was gunned down after a performance and while she was signing autographs. More than 100 patrons and employees were killed and injured when a gunman terrorized the Pulse nightclub. Both of the horrible acts were committed by a gunman in a workplace where the public also gathered.
The survivors and the families of the victims face a lifetime of pain and suffering in the aftermath of the murders. Knowing what can go wrong, how can you stay safe? If you are in a place like a nightclub with an active shooter, there are a few tips for safety in an extreme situation. Look for exits, and know that the best way out may not be the way that you came in. If you can get out, resist the urge to go back in to help. If you can’t get out, look for cover. The cover may be anything that will hide from the shooter. If you can stay out of the shooter’s eyesight, you may have a much better chance of surviving.
What can you do to maximize your safety at work where there is a world full of risks? More than 2 million American workers are victims of violence each year. While it is not possible to guard against every risk that happens at work, you have the right to be safe from harm. As an employee, it is important to know what is likely to happen and to minimize the risk to your safety. Your employer should take steps in the workplace to help keep you safe.
- Your employer has a duty to keep your workplace free from harm.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has passed safety standards for the workplace. Employees are entitled to a place of employment which is free from hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm. In North Carolina, part of the NC Department of Labor, the Occupational Safety and Health Division (OSH), is responsible for seeing that the state standards are followed by employers.
- Your employer has a duty to keep your workplace free from violence. The rule requiring safe workplaces is not just for dangerous machines, falls, and materials, it also includes violence. If violence and serious personal injury are hazards of the job, the employer must take the steps it can to minimize the risks.
- There may be guidelines to prevent workplace violence in your type of work. Healthcare and social service workers face an increased risk of work-related assaults from violent behavior of their patients, clients and or residents. Taxi and Uber drivers may need to be aware of safety measures they can take to remain safe. Retail workers are at risk because their workplaces are open to all who come, often operate at night, and may have large sums of cash.
Questions to ask to determine if your workplace is safe:
- Is there an understanding of the risk to employee safety? Employers and employees can work together to identify what steps can be taken to prevent violence.
- Who is responsible for the program? Everyone in the workplace should understand their responsibilities and authority.
- Who is responsible for reporting incidents? Employees should be involved and encouraged to report threats and incidents of violence.
- Is training needed to recognize threats, safety and security issues? Training can help employees spot potential security hazards and the procedures to protect themselves and their co-workers.
- What is the past experience with violence in the workplace? Has your workplace experienced violence before? What safety measures were, or should be, put in place?
What steps can you take at work? You should consider recommending safety measures to your employer. Physical changes to the work environment can help. Alarm systems, video cameras, locked doors, and improved lighting can help. Work practices are also options that can improve safety. Employees can be prohibited from working alone, required to report threats, lists of prohibited visitors can be maintained, and staff can be trained to spot hazards and call for help.
There isn’t a test that exists that can evaluate the type of employee or another person who might commit violence in the workplace. However, it is important for employers and employees to remain alert to problematic behavior that could point to possible violence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has published a workplace violence manual that sets out risk factors at times associated with potential violence, which include: personality conflicts, a mishandled termination or other disciplinary action, bringing weapons onto a work site, drug or alcohol use on the job, a grudge over a grievance, breakup of a marriage or romantic relationship, other family conflicts, financial or legal problems, or emotional disturbance.
In the face of specific threats, there are other tools that employers can use to protect employees in the workplace. North Carolina has a Workplace Violence Prevention Act that allows employers to request a civil no-contact order if an employee is the victim of attempted or actual harm at the workplace. After consulting with the employee, the employer can ask for the order from the court, which may issue either a temporary (10 days) or permanent (1 year) no-contact order. The order prohibits contact from the harasser or abuser with the employee at the employer’s workplace.
Should you suffer injuries from violence at work, the North Carolina Workers’ Compensation Act may provide compensation for wage loss, medical treatment, and permanent bodily damage. There could be compensation for the intentional acts of the perpetrator, as well as employment protections for the victimized employee.
If you or a family member has been injured in an act of violence at work, the experienced specialists at Johnson & Groninger PLLC can help. Call or email us today for an evaluation.