Workplace safety education in the active shooter era

Providing a safe work environment used to focus more on slippery floors and air quality than safe zones and evacuation routes. Unfortunately, today’s world forces everyone to prepare for a much more dangerous and increasingly possible event – an active shooter entering our workplaces. The FBI released a report in 2014 revealing that the number of active shooter incidents in the United States increased over 250 percent from 2006 to 2013. Tragically, these events have occurred at an even greater rate over the last two years. With almost 70 percent of these incidents occurring at a business, school or healthcare facility, employers are now realizing that they need to have a plan for how to prepare and respond for these types of events.

Regulatory Considerations
Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 states:

“Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.”

This section of the Act has been referred to as the “General Duty Clause,” and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has used it as a catchall to ensure workplace safety when no other standard exists for a prevalent hazard. With an active shooter incident now 18 times more likely to occur than a fire at a place of business, several courts have recently ruled that an active shooter in the workplace should now be considered a recognized hazard.

In addition, OSHA Standard 1910.38 states that all employers with more than 10 employees must have an Emergency Action Plan that includes procedures for emergency evacuation based on the type of event. So, in today’s environment, just having fire evacuation maps posted on the walls is no longer sufficient.

A New Part of Life Safety
The question I am most often asked is, “How do we educate employees about active shooters in the workplace without causing undue stress?” My answer is that it is best to present this delicate topic to employees under the larger umbrella of Life Safety. You already prepare your employees for the unlikely event of a fire or weather-related disaster because it is the responsible thing to do. Most employees have been through fire and disaster drills since they were school children. They understand why these drills are necessary, which makes it more seamless to introduce active shooter awareness as the third piece of a complete life safety program.

This is made even easier by the fact that more schools are conducting these types of drills, so employees (parents) are getting questions from their children about these drills and their necessity. One word of caution: if your company does not currently conduct fire and disaster awareness and drills, you should avoid leading with active shooter preparedness. Speeding from zero life safety training directly to active shooter awareness drills will more than likely agitate your employees. In these situations, I recommend that a company start with fire and inclement weather drills and, once that is part of your normal routine, add in active shooter awareness.

Training: The Basics
Use a methodology that is already familiar to your staff to incorporate active shooter awareness into your existing life safety program. As a child, you likely learned this simple fire safety technique: Stop, Drop and Roll. It is an easy-to-remember phrase that tells a person what to do if their clothes are on fire. There is a similar technique for active shooter incidents: Run, Hide, Fight.

  • Run – The first goal is to leave the building, if safe to do so. Know the specific route or routes you plan to take.
  • Hide – If leaving is not an option, find someplace safe to hide. Find a room with a door that locks from the inside, like an office or a conference room. If none of the doors have locks, find a room without windows. In all instances, find somewhere to hide and barricade the door if you have time.
  • Fight – If you cannot leave the building, hiding is not an option and your life is in immediate danger, then it is recommended that you try to distract, stun or overwhelm the shooter.

The Department of Homeland Security and the city of Houston have created a very powerful, free, six-minute video on the Run, Hide, Fight approach that should be shown to all of your employees.

The legal obligation of employers to provide a safe working environment for employees will continue to evolve, and so will workplace violence best practices. By incorporating these changes into your existing life safety program, you should be able to adopt them with minimal disruption and angst to your workforce.

James Green

James Green

James Green leads the business continuity program at PSCU. He is passionate about life safety and helps credit unions understand the importance of business continuity not just during an emergency, ... Web: Details