7 Steps to Building a Workplace Violence Response Plan

Today, more than ever, heightened security concerns have prompted business owners to begin developing threat response plans in addition to more traditional emergency response programs.

W. Barry Nixon, the executive director of the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence outlined seven key steps that companies can implement to lay the foundation for an effective workplace violence response plan.

First, it is important to define a critical incident. Is it a shoving match between employees? An employee being threatened by a customer? An employee yelling curse words at the top of their lungs?

A good definition to use might be the death, serious injury, or severe psychological trauma of an employee, client, or person that people have had regular contact with; any situation that will attract unusual attention from the news and media; and any event that is likely to seriously interfere with the continuous operation of critical business functions

The second step is for the organization to have a workplace violence response plan that clearly states the reporting requirements and procedures for emergency or imminent danger situations.

Typically, policies require that employees report emergency or imminent danger situations either directly to law enforcement (911) or to an internal control center and/or loss prevention. Remember the faster an organization knows about a critical incident, the faster it can put its plan into motion.

The first part of this step is to ensure a full workplace violence prevention program is in place. The second part is to have each department and subsequently each employee put together a “stay-safe plan.” A stay-safe plan for a department involves the supervisor developing a specific plan for their unit with employee input that fits the type of work performed and the environment. Typical items that should be included are:

• How to recognize early warning signs
• How to diffuse hostile situations
• Emerging procedures
• Concealment plan
• Exit strategy

Crisis Communications Plan. The number-one rule of business continuity is “If you can’t communicate, you can’t recover.” An effective crisis communication plan must be built to address the following elements:

• Speed—How quickly can communication take place?
• Accuracy—Is the correct information reaching the intended audience?
• Flexibility—Are there any limitations to the organization’s communication effort?
• Effectiveness and Reliability—Will the communications system work every time, regardless of the situation?

Critical Incident Stress Debriefing. The second part of the emergency actions step involves establishing a critical incident stress debriefing process in advance of an incident occurring. This deals with the emotional and/or psychological fallout that people often experience after being exposed to a traumatic event. This should also include emergency response personnel, who are often overlooked with regard to the impact of trauma.

The debriefing process is a critical step that impacts the speed at which the organization’s operations will be able to recover and resume productive business again. Research has shown that it takes six to 18 weeks for an employer to return their workplace to normal operations after a traumatic event. The process is considerably longer in workplaces where the employer fails to assist employees in the recovery process.

Stop and think for a moment. Have your organization’s employees received sufficient disaster recovery/business continuity planning training? If the answer is “No,” your organization is not alone.

This step involves assuring that all employees receive the appropriate training regarding the overall crisis response plan in general and their specific roles and duties in executing the plan. Training should at minimum include the following elements:

• Warning signals and their meaning, appropriate reaction, and actions to take
• Identification of an explanation regarding sequence of actions to take in an emergency, including how to report incidents and to whom
• Emergency shutdown or lock-down procedures
• Evacuation procedures and routes, assembly areas, and headcount management procedures

A fundamental rule of thumb of training is “Train first, and then test for competency.” An organization cannot afford to be in the position of hoping that its employees know what to do when a crisis strikes.

Too many businesses fail to follow this fundamental premise and consequently leave themselves wide open for an unpredictable response to a crisis event. Outdated and untested methods provide a false sense of security and place a company at a greater risk of operational failure.

According to the ASIS International Disaster Preparedness Guide, some  methodologies for testing a plan include:

• Walkthrough or tabletop drill—An interactive exercise with discussions of hypothetical or mock scenarios where actual emergency response functions are acted out in a classroom setting.
• Limited-scope drills—These involve limited mobilization of personnel and equipment to test interaction, coordination, participant activity, as well as assess participants knowledge and execution of required procedures, such as building evacuation.
• Full-scale exercise—A comprehensive test of the interaction and coordination in the emergency planning program; testing of the knowledge and skills of most key staff with emergency responsibilities; mobilizing personnel and testing knowledge of appropriate equipment. A full-scale exercise uses trained personnel such as police and fire personnel, other agencies’ or organizations’ emergency response personnel, or consultants to control, evaluate, and simulate participant activity on a large scale.

IMPORTANT WARNING: An organization should never, under any circumstances, conduct a surprise workplace violence incident exercise or drill where it depicts someone getting seriously injured or killed. To do so can subject the firm to tremendous liability because employees, unaware that it is a drill, could experience severe traumatic response that does not simply dissipate upon the subsequent announcement that it was just a drill.

The final step is to integrate the workplace violence response plan with the overall organization’s crisis response plan. It is necessary to emphasize this point since this article began by stating that workplace violence is a unique hazard that must be addressed in a unique manner. While this is true, the plan still needs to be congruent with and fit under the umbrella of the organization’s greater plan.

Despite the unique aspects of workplace violence, there are many areas that should be common to a firm’s response to crisis that integrate common methods and make wise use of the firm’s resources.

Keep in mind that while the plan must be comprehensive, it must also be actionable. A four-inch binder stuffed with 300 pages of narrative is not actionable. A succinct checklist is much better.

Click here to read more about the seven important steps that will help your organization lay the groundwork for an effective workplace-violence response plan.