No Business Is Too Small for Workplace Violence

Ashley McCown

Homicides in the workplace are on the rise. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2010, the latest year for which figures are available, of the 4,547 fatal workplace injuries, 506 were homicides.

No one wants to think about workplace violence happening in their company. Small business owners probably feel that could never happen to their company. Or, understandably they may feel there is nothing that can be done to prepare for, let alone prevent, something from happening. In fact, there are measures that can be taken to protect a business against threats and mitigate an actual attack. So rather than hoping the unthinkable never happens, here are five steps small business owners can take to get started.

  1. Update your Emergency Response and Crisis Communications Plans. Plans that sit on the shelf, gathering dust aren’t of much use when a crisis hits. Plans need to evolve with the organization they are designed to help and the world in which we now live and work. And if you don’t have a crisis plan, now is a good time to start.

  2. Educate your staff. They are one of the best resources your organization has to identify potential violence before it happens. Employees can be trained to look for troubling behavior in co-workers and suspicious activities of unknown individuals, i.e. someone standing in the same area or videotaping day after day.

  3. Collaborate with law enforcement. At the local and federal level, law enforcement agencies are tremendous resources for training programs and expert counsel. They want to work closely with the private sector in emergency planning as it vastly improves emergency response. We regularly invite local police, fire and emergency response personnel to participate in table top exercises for that reason. The Department of Homeland Security offers a range of training and resources for the commercial facility sector []. Much of this information is valuable for a business of any size.

  4. Demonstrate your Emergency Response Plans. You don’t want an actual crisis to be the first time you put your plan to the test. Table top exercises and drills show you which parts of your plans work well and which ones need to be retooled. They also give your Crisis Response Team a chance to work together before a situation occurs.

  5. Communicate. Effectively managing a crisis is not just about the tactical response. Communications plays a significant role in getting the right information to the right people quickly. When we do table top exercises, we invite everyone who works on site to participate including receptionists, security guards, parking attendants and janitors. Any one of those people could be the first to see something suspicious, so key staff and vendors on property should be empowered to say something if they see something. Similarly, communicate with abutting properties about your crisis plans as a collaborative approach to surveillance and communication can stop violence before it happens.

Every time there is workplace violence, whether at a university or in an office building, there are lessons for all of us. By committing to plan and prepare now, small business owners are taking critical steps to protect their property, their reputation and their most important asset: their people. 

Ashley McCown is president of Solomon McCown & Co., a Boston-based strategic communications firm specializing in crisis communications. She can be reached at You can follow her on Twitter @CrisisBostonPR

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