Safety in the Workplace: Know Your Environment

Most of us spend a lot of time in office buildings.  I envy folks who spend much of their professional life outdoors.  Of course when it is 15 degrees and blowing sleet as I sit in a comfortable office sipping coffee, not so much.  Anyway, most of us tend to let down our guard in the workplace.  We are intimately familiar with the surroundings and rarely do we encounter anything dangerous in this environment.  Therefore, similar to our own home, we get lax.

The truth is workplace violence is more common than most realize.  Sure, it is the mass murders when a disgruntled employee or a terrorist goes on a rampage around the office that gets the attention, but those are rare events.  Other types of crime like assaults and rape, however, are not that uncommon.  Ultimately, we should be conscious of any of the possibilities and not let our guard down.

One of the best things you can do to strengthen your own security in the workplace is to be aware of the layout of your environment and have a plan.  What will you do if there is a fire?  How about an active shooter?  Think about these things so that you have a mental blueprint for your action plan.  Also, know where the important things are: where are the exits? Where are the fire extinguishers?  Where are the locking doors?  Where are the points of cover you can use?  You don’t have to be paranoid about it, just familiarize yourself with your workplace surroundings.

Know your Route In and Out

Know the environment that surrounds you when you enter and exit your work place.  If you work in an office building, retail facility, warehouse, factory, whatever the case may be, know the environment.  Where do you park and who should typically be there?  Much of workplace violence happens on the ground surrounding the vicinity, not necessarily in it.  Also, your work is not immune to routine predatory criminal behavior.  If you see some shady characters in the parking garage, parking lot, or subway station, be aware of them.

Know Who Is In the Workplace

Once you spend any amount of time in a workplace you usually will know who should and should not be there.  Even if you work for a large corporation you will become accustomed to who belongs there and who does not.  Any unknown should raise suspicion.  There is no need to be an alarmist, but an individual you don’t know is a stranger.  Depending on the work environment a strange face may be quite unusual.  A retail or customer service environment will have more strangers around, obviously, on a daily basis, but a closed office space will typically only have the usual employees present.  If you work in a relatively isolated office environment that is generally closed to the public be alert to anyone who materializes that you don’t know or are not expecting.  Keep this in mind as well: a uniform does not mean a stranger is kosher.  Criminals have used FedEx, UPS, and security uniforms in the past in order to infiltrate environments and even pull off heists.  Verify who you are dealing with.

Many office environments today utilize secure access ID cards which are needed to unlock doors.  This is a good thing, but the constant problem I see with this is the “shadowing” of individuals to get into the building.  For example, the building in which I work is populated by a lot of people and it is easily accessible even though the doors require the access cards.  At any time in the day the longest you may need to wait to get through the door is no more than ten seconds.  As soon as someone walks in or out the portal is open.  Sure, it may be policy to not allow people to shadow you in, but how many employees actually take it upon themselves to interrogate an unknown individual to see who they are and what they are doing?  You can’t rely on access cards and secured doors, so be alert if an unknown individual is in your work space.

Be Alert to Concerning Behavior among Colleagues

The reality is that most “workplace violence” mass attacks are conducted by a current or ex-employee.  When people “go postal” there are often signs leading up to the rampage.  Be alert to any concerning behavior among fellow employees.  If someone is acting in ways that are troubling keep that in mind and avoid the individual if possible.  If things are seriously concerning then going to your human resources department about the issue may be wise.

Especially of concern is a recently terminated employee.  If someone gets “let go” and then shows up on premises a few days later you damn sure need to be alert to what they are up to.  There have been incidents of disgruntled employees, after being fired, taking their anger out on not only supervisors but fellow employees.  Know who should and should not be on premises at all times.

Have an Action Plan

 Finally, if things go bad, it is good to have a well thought out action plan in advance.  To begin with, are you armed?  Many places of employment forbid it.  If you carry on premises it is up to you and on you, of course, but not everyone can carry in their place of employment.  Therefore, being armed or not will factor into your plan.  If armed, evaluate your surrounds and take note of the structures that would work to your advantage.  Are you close to the entrances or far from them?  Where would danger come from?  Are you a receptionist at a front desk who may be the first to face a deranged killer getting off the elevator, or are you typically far from the main entrance?  If armed, where could you take a position in which to intercept such an attack?

If unarmed your game plan is going to be based around rapid escape even more critically than if armed.  Where is the closest exit?  Is the likely point of entrance of a threat between you and the exit?  What is available for cover?  What alternative weapons would be available?  Even if firearms are prohibited in your environment a large fire extinguisher beside your desk is probably allowed.  How about a framing hammer?  Active shooters usually need to cross doorways.  The doorway can be the great equalizer.  A framing hammer can do some amazing damage to a human skull as an evil individual comes through a doorway.  And certainly keep medical and trauma gear on hand.  This may pay off in the wake of an attack, or simply in the wake of a workplace accident.

So these are a few things to think about concerning safety in your workplace.  Unfortunately the workplace is not immune to human violence and a bit of thought and preparation can go a long way should the unthinkable happen.

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