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Things your business can do to be prepared for violence in the workplace

Between 2011 and 2015 there were 2,173 people killed by firearms alone in the workplace, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Stock photo shows a typical business work environment.
Stock photo shows a typical business work environment.Read morePattanaphong Khuankaew / Getty Images/iStockphoto

I visit many businesses in the Philadelphia area, and there’s one thing that always surprises me: how easy it is for some people to waltz right in and potentially wreak havoc.

Sure, some of these companies have a receptionist on duty. A few have “buzz-in” systems. But oftentimes, as I make my way from the parking lot to the entrance I see open exterior doors where anyone can get access, and once inside, a guest – whether invited or not — can pretty much run rampant from office to warehouse to shop floor. It’s no wonder that there are so many violent workplace incidents in this area and around the country. Unfortunately, many employers – both big and small — just aren’t paying enough attention.

How pervasive is violence in the workplace? Very. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, there are more than two million reports of workplace violence by employees every year. These are not just internal issues. Between 2011 and 2015 there were 2,173 people killed by firearms alone in the workplace, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with robberies, domestic disputes, angry customers. and feuding employees accounting for the top reasons.

So it’s not surprising that — according to a recent study from security firm OpenPath — about one in three employees say they don’t feel safe at work.

What about your company? Are you protecting your employees from a potential violent attack, particularly in this era of mass shootings and other forms of violence? Here are a few things you could be doing:

Are all external doors locked?

People should not be able to gain access to your business without permission. A reliable access system should be installed where employees either use a card, a key, a fob, a fingerprint, or their smartphone for entry. Any visitor to your company should only be able to access your facilities through one entrance, with approval from a receptionist and gatekeeper. Electronic reception sign-in systems like Envoy or Visitly can help identify and approve all visitors.

If you already have a system in place, when was the last time you checked on it? The OpenPath study found that more than half of the employees they surveyed think their company’s access control system could be improved or modernized.

All access points inside your company should also be equipped with access control. Once inside, a worker from the warehouse should not be able to access the office unless he or she has permission, and the same goes for office workers looking to go elsewhere in the facility.

Typical access management systems for small businesses could run anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the company’s requirements, location and complexity.

Is there a reliable alarm and video system?

If, God forbid, there is ever an incident at your company you want to make sure that your employees have easy access to an alarm so that others can be alerted as well as be able to find accessible, unblocked doorways to escape.

Doing so could save lives. Setting up a simple video surveillance system may not only help avoid a potential workplace incident but also be a critical source of evidence for police or others investigating an incident.

Policies and worker training

Do have a policy regarding guns in your workplace?

According to attorney John P. McAvoy with Ward Law, LLC, New Jersey’s right-to-carry laws are so restrictive that it is almost always unlawful for an employee to possess a firearm in the workplace. But in Pennsylvania, the laws are more liberal. “Without an express statute on point, courts generally give employers the right to control the workplace," he wrote in a blog post. “As such, employers are free to impose policies allowing or restricting the possession of weapons in vehicles parked on company property and/or in the workplace.”

So what is your policy about firearms at work? What’s acceptable behavior by your employees and outsiders? What incidents do you define as "violent?" What are the repercussions for those that commit a violent act? If an act occurs, what procedures should be followed by others to ensure their safety? Your safety policies should be reviewed annually and regular training should be considered. You do not want to put your employees at risk because they are not aware of what to do if a violent incident occurs.

Get an expert to take a look

Have your insurance agent do a walk-through. Invite in your local police department to evaluate your procedures. Ask the company that installed your security systems to make recommendations. These are all experts who deal with workplace safety issues all the time, and they all have a vested interest in keeping your facility free of any violent incidents. Lean on them for help and take advantage of their expertise.

You’ll never be able to fully eliminate the risk of a violent incident at your workplace. But you can take steps now to ensure that this risk has been minimized. In this day and age, securing your workplace is critical. Hopefully, more business owners that I visit will start getting the message.