Employer Response to Aggressive Intruders and Active Shooters

woman hiding behind desk
January 2, 2018

News stories from the last few months reinforce how employers must be vigilant to protect employees internationally, nationally and locally. To protect employees, customers, and contractors, it does not really matter who the perpetrators are; what matters most is do our employees know what to do when they encounter aggressive intruders or active shooters in the workplace?

Under the OSHA General Duty Clause, employers are required to provide a safe workplace free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious injury to employees. This does not mean only hazardous materials and conditions which requires a "hazard identification, hazard mitigation, hazard control" response. Employers must now address the "hazard" of an aggressive intruder or active shooter who means to do harm to people in work settings.

OSHA has developed a typology of four types of violent perpetrators:

  1. A Type 1 perpetrator is an outsider who comes into the workplace for the purpose of committing a crime (e.g. opportunistic criminal). 
  2. A Type 2 perpetrator is a person receiving a service from an organization who attacks someone in the organization (e.g. a patient attacking a caregiver).
  3. A Type 3 perpetrator in a current or former employee who initiates an attack (e.g. "disgruntled employee").
  4. The Type 4 perpetrator is when the attacker is a former or current person involved with an employee, often in some type of domestic relationship.

Whomever the potential attacker may be, the employer must develop systems to prevent, identify, manage and recover from violence in the workplace. This entails:

  1. Assessing risks;
  2. Creating a plan to manage aggressive intruders;
  3. Training employees and managers to know what to do; and
  4. Practicing the developed plan.

What is most helpful is for employers to develop Comprehensive Workplace Violence Prevention Systems which contain:

  • A violence prevention policy;
  • Systems to report threats; 
  • An internal cross-functional Threat Assessment Team to evaluate reported threats;
  • Procedures to intervene with those making threats while protecting everyone else in the workplace; and
  • Training of all employees to know the policy, behavioral warning signs to look for, whom to call to report threats and how to manage aggressive incidents when they occur.

Despite all the headlines such incidents collect, Active Shooter response must be kept in the perspective that they are fortunately low-frequency events.

Contributed by Kenneth Wolf, Ph.D.