What happens when conflict arises in your workplace? Is it addressed, or brushed under the rug? Violence is on the rise; shop owners and employees need to be trained to identify triggers, signs and symptoms in order to avoid any potential outbursts. Protecting your staff and customers should be your priority.

When hearing the words “workplace violence,” – an image of an active shooter is the first thing that comes to mind. While media and society have had an impact on this behavior, you are much more likely to witness a lesser act of violence.

According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016), there were 16,890 private industry non-fatal injury reports; 100 of those reported were found across the Automotive sector and 30 incidents were intentional violent acts. In 2016 alone, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2016) indicated there were 500 homicides; 21 of those incidents in the Automotive industry.

To help reduce workplace violence, it is critical that employers and employees can identify, address and remediate violent outbreaks.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines four broad categories of workplace violence: criminal intent, customer to client, worker to worker, and lastly, personal relationships. An active shooter situation can occur within any of these four categories.

No matter the situation at hand, everyone in your company should be able to identify warning signs of a potentially violent situation. Employee training – and implementing an Emergency Action Plan – is crucial.

Step one: Know who you hire and who you welcome into your shop. Make sure you do extensive background checks on any potential employees. When interviewing, ask thought-provoking, probing questions about tense situations – look for red flags. It is your duty to keep your staff and customers as safe as possible. The best way to do that is to trust who you hire. You can’t account for every customer, but you can try to identify warning signs. Personal relationships can (and will) enter the workplace, be aware of potential personal threats for all your employees.

Step two: Adopt and implement a Zero-Tolerance policy toward workplace violence. Your policy should outline unacceptable behaviors toward employees, clients, vendors, etc. This plan should include policies for verbal intimidation, physical threats or acts of violence, the outcome of incident reporting and termination. Once you set a Zero-Tolerance policy in motion, you MUST follow it – there can be no exceptions.

Step three: Practice; the more training and knowledge you can provide, the better the outcome will be. Try role playing; worker to worker situations, customer to worker situations – what actions, or tactics can be used to diffuse a tense, possibly violent outbreak?

Step four: Spot the threat. You’ve done your due diligence, but you can’t prevent everything. Has anyone witnessed a change in behavior? Make sure employees know how to report a hostile situation. Have a plan in place to protect yourself, your staff – and any customers in the vicinity. If the problem can be diffused, have a plan in place to do so as safely and privately as possible. If the situation at hand is more threatening, you need to have security measures in place.

Nothing is scarier than a violent situation getting out of hand; one that could quickly become an active shooter situation. Unfortunately, this threat is still on the rise in the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI reports there have been 277 active shooter incidents in the U.S. from 2000-2018. Of those 277 incidents, it is reported 131 were in areas of commerce – claiming over 300 lives.

When a shooter situation unfolds, every minute is precious and all too few. Train your employees to use the Department of Homeland Security’s three suggested options: Run, Hide, or Fight. The shooter usually has a target in mind; bystanders (workers and customers) quickly become victims during the process.

As soon as a shooting is identified, attempt to notify everyone as quickly as possible. Many companies have a pre-recorded PA system in place. At this point, the first and best option is to RUN. Quickly notify any surrounding people (coworkers and customers alike), exit the building and get to safety.

If you are unable to exit the premises safely, or there is the threat of the shooter, your next option is to HIDE. Deny the shooter access: find a locking room if possible, turn off the lights and silence your cell phone. It is unlikely someone will shoot if they can’t find you.

If you cannot escape or hide you must FIGHT. Defend yourself in any way possible. Improvise with weapons; fire extinguishers, scissors, objects to throw, furniture, shop tools, etc. Do whatever it takes to save your life.

As an employer, you can’t ever truly prepare for a situation like this to unfold – but you can plan. Work with your local law enforcement; schedule a walk through for some safety ideas. Have a lock-box near your entrances with blueprints, employee lists, and

keys for law enforcement to access the building and any locked areas if there is an emergency. Time is precious in these situations; every minute counts.

Avoid becoming a statistic; don’t let your company become a tragedy. Plan, train, educate, and spot the threats when and where you can. Warning signs are everywhere, but you have to listen – and look out for them.

Let’s keep each other safe.