By Suzanne Hoffman, Ph.D.
Senior Consultant Baron Center, Inc.
Article #4 of the 4 “D’s”
What are Dangerous Behaviors?
Dangerous Behaviors in the workplace are the most severe and concerning of the behaviors described in this series. These behaviors are very frightening, and while occurring less frequently than distracting, disruptive or disorderly behaviors, they can nonetheless turn a “regular” workplace into a both terrifying and unsafe environment.
When we talk about dangerous workplace behavior, we often see the following:
- escalated and imminent threats including:
- imminent homicidal threats
- imminent suicidal threats
- physical aggression
- sexual assault
- stalking and predatory behaviors
- fist fights
- attacks with edged weapons
- weapons in the workplace
These behaviors create an unsafe and unsettled workplace, and will violate both policy and criminal code.
Yikes! What do we need to do?
Incidents of dangerous behaviors call for immediate and emergency action! These situations are emergencies, and the safety of all involved in business operations – employees, vendors and customers – is paramount!
Each dangerous situation is unique, and calls for both judgement and quick thinking during a time of utmost urgency. The reality is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to dangerous situations, but in most cases, immediate action will almost always include:
- Calling 9-1-1
- Protecting yourself and others from immediate physical harm
- Evacuating the premises if there is a weapon present
- Following the direction of law enforcement and other security personnel until the danger has passed.
We cannot emphasize enough that preparation and training to respond to these workplace violence incidents before these events occur is so important. The bottom line is that organizations that are prepared — those that have emergency protocols and resources in place, in accordance with organizational culture and policy – are far better equipped to respond quickly and safely to a major dangerous workplace incident.
When the immediate danger has passed:
When the immediate danger has been mitigated, investigations into the incident and what may have preceded it will follow. These investigations will likely be both criminal and OSHA/Workplace related. If you were a witness to the incident, it is very important to write down your account of what you saw as soon as possible after the event. There’s an old saying – “One dull pencil is worth two sharp minds”, which essentially refers to the fact that writing down what you saw as soon as possible after it happens is likely to be more useful in an investigation than trying to piece it together hours or days later. Research shows that memory is highly suggestible and shifts over time, so it’s important to record what you saw, in detail, as soon as you can.
Additional things to consider following an incident of dangerous behavior:
One of the questions that often arise in the light of dangerous behavior of a violent incident is – do we need more help? If a threat is ongoing, you may need to engage long-term threat management, security and/or pursue a restraining order. Again, this is where your relationship with allied professionals is vital – it is important to know where to find competent resources in the following areas:
- Threat Management Expertise
- Fitness for Duty
- Public Relations
For larger scale or high profile incidents, it is not uncommon for the media to be present. In these cases, it is recommended that the organization have a designated representative, such as a public relations professional, to deal exclusively with the media, and that all inquiries for statements or other information be directed to that person.
Most importantly, don’t forget those affected by violence and dangerous behaviors in the workplace
Finally, it is important to remember to attend to the needs of those affected by dangerous behaviors in the workplace. Whether they are direct victims of violence or other threatening behaviors, or witnesses to such events, do not underestimate the impact for those who continue to work in the environment following a serious threat or incident of violence. We feel it is very important to coordinate with EAP as soon as possible after an incident to coordinate a caring management response, and to provide emotional support and counseling for those who need or desire it. Be sure that your EAP can provide both on-site trauma counseling and follow-up counseling appointments for any employees impacted by a violent incident.
The 4D’s – what have we learned?
Stay tuned for the final blog in this series, where we will be focusing on the importance of organizational preparedness across the employee behavioral spectrum. Specifically, we will be examining the importance of maximizing employee potential and effectiveness while maintaining a safe and productive workplace.
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