How Mass Shootings Are Putting Workplace Safety in the Spotlight


In the wake of a slew of mass shootings, which are characterized by four or more people getting injured or killed, many HR leaders are scrutinizing workplace safety plans. In 2022, the United States has experienced more than 250 mass shootings as of June, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This can be compared to 700 for the whole year in 2021, 611 in 2020, and 417 in 2019. 

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In the Headlines

Recently, high-profile shootings at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas have gripped citizens and sent shockwaves across the nation. These tragedies sparked conversations about security and gun control. 

Another mass shooting in Maryland hit close to home for workers. Joe Louis Esquivel, 23, of West Virginia reported to work at Columbia Machine, Inc., an 80-year-old manufacturer of concrete products equipment in Smithsburg, Maryland, for a normal shift. He later retrieved a weapon from his vehicle and killed three people and injured one person in a rampage that began in the break room, according to USA Today.

READ: What Is Mental Health and Wellness in HR? 

On cable news, analysts began talking about how average citizens can protect themselves as best they can in the absence of common sense gun laws. Frank Figliuzzi, former federal law enforcement agent, stressed that HR professionals must anticipate how employees might react to news about layoffs, pay cuts, or getting fired. Noticing red flags and the potential for violence is yet another skill Human Resources must add to the toolbox. 

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HR and Workplace Safety

Other incidents have also put workplace safety in focus. The Labor Movement began, in part, because of poor workplace conditions that led to fires and other hazards that endangered the lives of workers.

READ: Pros and Cons of Labor Unions

When the 9/11 attacks happened in 2001, security officers in offices in New York City followed protocol and forced office workers to remain in buildings – even on high floors – instead of having them evacuate. In the days after 9/11, security swiftly changed its plans and workers began evacuating immediately upon being alerted to bomb threats, which were common for weeks afterward. 

More recently, COVID-19 posed a health hazard to workers. Although some front-line workers had no choice but to report to work in an office, supermarket, manufacturing plant, or hospital, etc., HR leaders quickly devised plans and followed Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to enforce mask wearing, social distancing, and good hygiene. Some had staggered schedules, so fewer people would be inside together at the same time. Just about everyone had plans for disinfecting the office. Later, they encouraged vaccination.

Now, the shootings are cause for concern. Tension is high already. The economy is rocky, and inflation is high. Layoffs may be coming, and the pandemic revealed a brutal mental health crisis. This combination of influences outside the control of organizations should send up the red flag. 

READ: How Inflation Influences Layoffs

Workplace Safety Plans for Active Shooters 

The FBI defines an active shooter as someone engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in public spaces in a random fashion. The Department of Homeland Security published an online booklet about how to prepare for an active shooter, which can serve as a starting point for a plan. 

For instance, DHS suggests HR works with a training department (if one exists), facility owners or operators, the property manager, and local law enforcement and emergency responders to come up with an effective plan. The plan, according to the government, should include an emergency evacuation route, listed responsibilities of different parties in the case of an emergency, and step-by-step instructions about who to call for help and when. 

Practicing with mock active shooter events is a good way to prepare the team. HR professionals in tandem with security and local law enforcement can lead such drills. This is a chance for people to learn their responsibilities, locate hiding places, and learn evacuation routes. 

READ: What Is a Chief Wellness Officer in HR? 

More importantly, DHS suggests people keep tabs on their colleagues, make mental health a priority, check in with people, and recognize and act upon red flags. “Fostering a respectful workplace” is on top of DHS’ prevention list. Clearly, workplace culture and the transformation taking place, which has employees gaining leverage, is part of the conversation on workplace safety, too. 

Photo by Pixabay for Pexels

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