NEW YORK (AP) — Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Walmart in Virginia was just the latest example of a workplace shooting by an employee.
But while many companies offer active training for shooters, experts say there’s far less focus on how to prevent workplace violence, especially how to identify and deal with worrying behavior among employees. employees.
Too often, workers don’t know how to recognize the warning signs and, more importantly, don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so, according to workplace safety and human resources experts.
“We’ve built an industry around how to lock down bad guys. We have invested heavily in physical security measures such as metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards,” said James Densley, professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and co-founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan research group The Project Violences. But too often in workplace shootings, he says, “it’s someone who already has access to the building.”
The Walmart shooting in particular has raised questions about whether employees feel empowered to speak up because a team leader carried out the shooting.
Identified by Walmart as Andre Bing, 31, he opened fire on co-workers in the Chesapeake store’s break room, killing six people and injuring six others. Police said he then apparently committed suicide.
Employee Briana Tyler, who survived the shooting, said Bing didn’t appear to be targeting anyone in particular. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she’s never had a negative encounter with Bing, but others have told her he’s “the manager to watch.” She said Bing used to write about people for no reason.
Walmart launched computer-based active shooter training in 2015, focusing on three pillars: avoiding danger, keeping your distance, and finally, defending. Then, in 2019, after a mass shooting at a store in El Paso, Texas, in which an outside shooter killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the threat to the public by halting the sale of certain types of ammunition and asked customers not to openly carry guns in its stores. It now only sells shotguns and related ammo.
Walmart did not specifically respond to questions on Wednesday seeking more details about its training and protocols to protect its own employees. The company said only that it regularly reviews its training policies and will continue to do so.
Densley said employers must create open channels for workers to raise concerns about employee behavior, including confidential helplines. He noted that too often attention is focused on “red flags” and that workers should look for “yellow flags” – subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or not showing up for work. Densley said managers need to work with these people to offer guidance and check in regularly.
In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s Active Fire Manual states that human resources managers have a responsibility to “create a system to flag signs of potential violent behavior.” It also encourages employees to report behaviors such as increased absenteeism and repeated violation of company policies.
But many employers may not have such preventative policies in place, said Liz Peterson, quality manager at the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resource professionals.
She noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they did not know if their organizations had workplace violence prevention policies, and a further 9% said that they lacked such programs. This contrasts with the 57% of HR managers who said they received training on how to respond to violence.
A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have increased in recent years, although they are still down sharply from their peak in the mid-1990s.
Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide rose 11%, from 409 to 454. That was still a 58% drop from the peak of 1,080 in 1994, according to the report, which was released in July by the Ministries of Labour, Justice and Health. and Human Services. The report found that workplace homicide trends largely mirror national homicide trends.
But the surge in mass public shootings across the country is raising awareness among employers of the need to tackle mental health in the workplace and prevent violence – and the responsibilities employers can face if they ignore the warning signs. -runners, Peterson said.
In a high-profile example, a victim’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year against the Northern California Transit Agency, alleging they failed to respond to the story of the threatening behavior. of an employee who shot and killed nine co-workers at a light rail yard in San Jose in 2021.
The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents showing the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, had been the subject of four workplace conduct investigations, and a worker feared Cassidy cannot “go through the post”. This phrase comes from one of the deadliest workplace shootings in US history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986.
“Workplace violence is a situation that you never think will happen to your organization until it does, and unfortunately it is important to be prepared for it as it is becoming more and more common” , Peterson said.