In light of the maddening media frenzy about the recent mass shooting in Colorado, employers and business owners everywhere are seeking honest answers to that proverbial question concerning workplace safety: “What do we do if someone ‘goes postal’ at our office or jobsite?” This type of situation rarely was brought up by organizations until we entered the latter part of the 20th Century.
Sure, there’ve been incidents over time that caused fear and anxiety where people worked, but ever since the popular culture has taken on the mantel of relativism and personal non-accountability which started in earnest in the 1960s, the American public has dealt with individuals who feel there are no absolutes and that society is to blame for their problems.
Nowadays, the popular mindset is to blame someone else for your problems. There is no right or wrong, black or white. There is no truth that is absolute. What is wrong for one may be right for another. Being personally responsible for your own actions is no longer acceptable. Anyone can pass the buck and blame their parents, their schools, their cartoon villains, their neighborhoods, society in general, or even past presidents, for all the bad things that happen.
Guess what? All that is pure garbage. There are absolutes. Truth is still truth. Right is right, and wrong is wrong. Evil is still evil, and good is still good. You are responsible for any decision you make, good or bad. You cannot blame someone else for making bad choices; because at the end of the day, it’s still you in the mirror that must live with the decisions you make whether you want to accept it or not.
Now that you have that understanding, let’s look at what you should do to protect your employees. Here are a few tips for managers and employers to consider when setting up a workplace safety plan:
1. Screen your employees for any history of past problems. There are legal ways to accomplish this task, so you won’t get sued by someone who you don’t want to hire, or someone you have to fire. Be careful about the questions you ask, but make sure you hire and fire based on the employee’s merit.
2. Hire a great attorney. Find legal counsel skilled in employment law to keep you out of hot water with all the issues that can happen at the workplace. You don’t need problems if you can avoid them up front. A good lawyer is worth the money. Just put the one you find on retainer so he doesn’t bill you to death on hourly rates, and he is available when you call him to help.
3. Get a disaster action plan in place and have practice drills with your employees. Let your office staff or plant workers know how to escape, find a safe room, and follow directions. Practicing your procedures once or twice a year can help prevent loss of life and severe injuries. Don’t forget OSHA as well. Have the local police and fire departments on speed dial. Learn how to save lives.
4. Get great insurance. Loss of property can create financial duress, but you can recover if your premiums are current and you cover yourself for replacement costs and damages. However, loss of life can bankrupt you beyond imagination, especially if one of your employees’ family members feels that you were negligent. Your insurance agent could be your best friend in case you have a disaster.
5. Have regular interaction with employees, and be a good listener. If there is a potential problem with someone you hired, it likely may surface if you have good rapport with your employees—they should be able to trust you by sharing information in confidence about possible issues going on in the workplace. Have an open door and schedule regular “town hall” meetings with your employees to learn about both the good and the bad that is happening around you. Trust is key for your team. They need to know that the boss is in touch and can be reliable and responsive.
6. Encourage employees to seek counseling if you notice they are having social, psychological or emotional issues. If someone on your team feels they are having personal problems or are experiencing high levels of stress, provide a method for that individual to get professional help. Keep your ears and eyes open for any worker who may be slipping on the job for any reason, or if they are having problems with their job performance that may be unusual for that person. Put a great EAP program in place that is private and secure, and that can assist employees who are having problems. Then, follow up.
7. Remember to lock the door behind you when you leave, and have a secure area for employees that’s not accessible to the general public. Hire security to manage building access and personnel safety if you are in a location that deals with sensitive materials, services, products, or information. Train your key staff to be security conscience. If you work in retail or job sites that provide open availability to most of your location, then make sure you have adequate safety measures in place to protect everyone.
8. Vet all your vendors. When you hire a contractor for services, make sure that they are licensed, bonded, and screened. Don’t trust every guy who walks into your office or store with a badge or business card unless you know they have been properly vetted. Anyone can get a card printed with a logo, or buy a fake ID on the street for a few dollars. Make sure you are dealing with reputable companies, and find out who is going to show up before they arrive. Sound a little paranoid? Maybe, but the safety game is not a game—it’s real life.
9. Establish “free zones”. Be vigilant when employees show up for work. If you say that your place of employment is drug, alcohol, tobacco, gun, etc, free, then enforce it. Have a zero tolerance policy. When the employees sign the contract or agreement to work for you, they get notified before signing, and agree by their signature, that they agree to the terms of employment. Any violation of the “free zone” policy results in immediate termination. No exceptions. (See Item # 2).
10. Don’t freak out. If you have a disaster, maintain your cool. Leadership demands clear, calm direction at the time of crisis. Learn to be a rock in the river of uncertainty. Your employees look to you as their champion when times get tough. So, be tough. You can certainly show compassion, but lead others to safety when the moment is greatest for them to follow you.
Now, go make money or help others, or whatever you excel at in your organization. Remember, to have a safe workplace isn’t always possible or the easiest accomplishment. However, when you feel that you have acquired a sense of security, be vigilant. Be strong. Be courageous. Be smart. Be safe.