The Duty of Care

Workplace Safety

Five steps to ensure employee safety through location awareness and active shooter preparedness drills.

By Cara Antonacci

Executives, HR leaders, and security professionals have a “duty of care” to uphold to keep their people safe. Given the increased prevalence of workplace violence and active shooter situations, this responsibility has only been magnified. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16,890 workers in the private industry experienced trauma from nonfatal workplace violence in 2016. To compound that issue, the workforce is becoming increasingly mobile and remote. In fact, IDC predicts that 72 percent of workers will be mobile in some capacity by 2020. Employees are more vulnerable than ever to global travel, security, and safety risks, and many HR departments are unsure about where to begin to secure the safety of their entire organization.

While the risk of violence is higher than ever, a 2018 Everbridge report looked carefully at active shooter preparedness in the workplace and found alarming results. The study reported that despite an increase in awareness and concern about active shooters, half of surveyed organizations don’t have an emergency communication plan in place and 62 percent aren’t currently running drills.

Safety Policy

HR teams should consider these best practices in order to meet their duty of care responsibility and implement effective active shooter and workplace violence preparedness policies:

1. Start at the top to create a “trickle down” effect. The biggest hurdle many HR professionals need to overcome is often financial. Training and development budgets are often strained and convincing decision-makers to spend money on an active shooter drill and other workplace violence training can be difficult. The reality is that these trainings aren’t necessarily expensive and local law enforcement departments can help support them. Think of practicing a building fire drill—it requires minimal employee time and company resources to execute. Organizations like the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, for example, offer free resources and information on how to create impactful workplace violence drills. One of the keys to success is getting the C-suite to buy in. If the executive team understands the importance of these drills and is willing to invest in them, the entire staff will feel the commitment to safety.

2. Establish a clear workplace violence policy and plan. Every company needs a clear policy regarding workplace violence. The plan should include details about how threats and incidents are to be managed, both from a security perspective and within the broader employee base. While many companies have plans in place, they often only focus on the first responders and aren’t communicated to the larger organization. Instead, HR professionals should include specific active shooter procedures in their company emergency response plans and make them widely available. These need to be clear, short, and concise instructions to the organization’s personnel that detail how to respond during an active shooter situation.

Maintaining a complete and accurate record of all employee contact data (home and mobile phone numbers, personal email addresses, etc.) to easily facilitate emergency communications is also an important part of any workplace violence plan. For large organizations, it’s important to have a swipe card system that shows when employees are in the building and accounts for visitors and guests. Unfortunately, many violent incidents can be tracked back to a current or former employee, which is why having an accurate employee and visitor count is so critical.

HR professionals should also develop a relationship with their local law enforcement agencies and ensure communication with them is part of their plan. Companies must be prepared to work closely with local law enforcement officers and recruit them to help support training and drills.

3. Conduct regular personnel training and deploy a secure, scalable, and reliable emergency management application across the organization. Training employees about the company’s overall workplace violence policy and plan is only part of the job. These individuals also need to understand the active shooter response plan. Employees should be trained on how to report threats and how to respond during an active shooter situation. Communication is critical in a shooting emergency, and a secure, scalable, and reliable emergency management application enables businesses to send notifications to individuals or groups to keep them informed before, during, and after critical events. HR professionals should conduct a mass notification exercise with their staff at least once per year and every new hire should be exposed to it during their onboarding process.

Occasionally, organizations shy away from conducting these trainings because they are concerned about the emotional impact they will have on employees. A drill or training needs to be realistic—not traumatic. It shouldn’t be couched as a legal exercise either. Rather, the training should be identified as something that will provide long-standing value to employees. Putting employees through training can pay enormous dividends. It can be a wake-up call for anyone who has never been involved in a crisis, and it can turn employees into additional eyes and ears for an organization’s security program. Raising employee capacity for situational awareness allows them to take greater responsibility for their own personal health and welfare.

4. Have a conversation about location-aware technology. Educating employees on why it’s important to adopt a technology or policy that might be perceived as infringing upon their privacy is essential to overcome their reluctance to comply. If a policy requires the use of a GPS-enabled smartphone app, educate employees on the fact that they are not being actively followed. Once that misconception is overcome, the app can be seen as a benefit that provides protection from not only crisis situations, but also typical hazards such as car accidents or severe weather.

5. Create advocates beyond the HR department. HR professionals often implement a workplace violence exercise with their incident or crisis management team, but not every organization has these departments. While these trainings are important, they focus on the aftermath of an incident and the impact on the people and the business. HR should strive to create a more extensive advocacy base. Creating a safety ambassador team that encompasses the broader staff will help turn bystanders into “upstanders.” It gives people the power to feel like they aren’t another victim and empowers them to take a more active role in the safety of their company. Additionally, it is important to make sure these individuals understand the concept of “see something, say something,” and what constitutes raising a red flag.

In today’s increasingly unpredictable world, there is a greater sensitivity to the potential of a violent incident happening at work or in a public space. As a result, many employees are looking for ways to feel secure and are more willing to comply with company safety policies and use technology they may once have shied away from. Establishing the right preparedness across the organization can improve employee morale, decrease organizational exposure to risk, and ensure HR’s duty of care approaches are best in class.


Cara Antonacci is vice president of HR at Everbridge.

Posted May 6, 2019 in Workforce Management

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