Nearly 20 years ago the actions of a troubled Edmond, Oklahoma post office employee shocked the world and made us all realize that workplace violence is a real threat, requiring a strategic plan and preventative workplace violence training. On August 20, 1986 Patrick Sherrill walked into the Edmond post office where he worked and shot and killed 14 people and before killing himself. Sherrill had been worried that he was going to lose his job. The incident has been identified as the source of the phrase “going postal.”
I had never heard of the Edmond Post Office Massacre until yesterday. While doing research for this blog I came across a report from the FBI, “Workplace Violence: Issues in Response.” The Edmond incident was the first cited in their report. I read the FBI report but wasn’t really moved by it, after all it was 18 years ago, but then I Googled ‘Edmond Post Office Killings.,’ After reading more of the details, I wanted to throw up. The Edmond Post Office Massacre may have happened 18 years ago, but it might as well have been yesterday. The details of that shooting are not unlike all of the other office or school shootings we hear about in the news today: someone is troubled, they take it out on others, they kill themselves. It happened at my alma mater earlier this year. Why are mass shootings still happening? Why does it seem like nothing has changed? And what can we do, to ensure the next 18 years are safer?
I wrote a blog last week that focused on workplace violence as the number one killer of women and number two killer of men in the workplace. After reading the report from the FBI, I’d like to broaden what we classify as workplace violence. Murder is the most extreme violent act, because it is so finite, however, just because murder hasn’t occurred at your office doesn’t mean workplace violence or discrimination and harassment are not present. According to the FBI, “homicide and other physical assaults are on a continuum that also include domestic violence, stalking, threats, harassment, bullying, emotional abuse, intimidation, and other forms of conduct that create anxiety, fear and a climate of distrust in the workplace. All are part of the workplace violence problem.”
Employers and the government need to work together to promote safe work environments. I’m sure you’ve heard the term, ‘don’t work harder, work smarter.’ Sometimes we don’t have the resources or man power to implement the preventative workplace violence training we need – maybe your company is fairly small – but that doesn’t mean you have to go without. Work smarter, by taking advantage of external resources. Approach your local law enforcement about providing outreach to employees, mental health and social service contacts, assistance in setting up a system for employee background checks and training in threat assessment and on laws related to workplace violence (i.e. harassment, stalking), as well as the appropriate response.
Don’t forget about your internal strategy, too! Putting an effective workplace violence strategy in place does not have to be costly. How effective your program is will often come down to communication that starts with the formation of your workplace violence strategy.
Components Of An Effective Workplace Violence Strategy
(Provided by the FBI)
1. Obtain support from the top
2. Tailor your plan to your needs
3. Create a plan that is proactive
4. Take your workplace culture into consideration – are there elements of your culture that foster a toxic environment? If so, you’ll want to address these with leadership to implement change.
5. Get lots of different perspectives – your plan should be based on a multidisciplinary team approach
6. Practice! Workplace violence training should not be unlike practicing a fire drill. Practice scenarios and responses, so you are prepared should a situation ever arise.
So now you have the broad, overarching guide to creating a preventative strategy – but what types of elements should your program include?
Components Of A Workplace Violence Prevention Program
(Provided by the FBI)
1. A statement of the company’s no threats and no violence policy
2. A physical security survey and assessment of the premises
3. Procedures for addressing threats and threatening behavior
4. Forming and training an incident response team
5. Access to threat assessment professionals
6. Preventative workplace violence training for all employee groups
7. Crisis response measures
8. Consistent enforcement of behavioral standards and disciplinary actions
I hope you have found this information helpful. You can check out the FBI report here for more in-depth information on workplace violence issues in response.