Workplace Violence Training Programs: Clarifying Major Misconceptions (Pt. 1/2)

Workplace Violence Training Programs: Clarifying Major Misconceptions (Pt. 1/2)


Workplace Violence Training Programs (WVTP) have become critical to preparing employees to react to violent attacks, teaching methods of preventing violence, and advising workers of specific policies implemented to increase safety.

However, as critical as they are, resistance to their implementation still exists in many organizations, and it often resides in the C-Suite (slang for corporate senior executives). To effectively implement a WVTP, an organization’s objections, especially those of its senior leaders, will have to be tactfully overcome.

As a security professional in two corporations, I knew we needed to train our employees and to do so, I would have to figure out what the specific objections were and how to overcome them. Through a process of trial and error—much more error—I discovered several effective strategies to garner leadership, acceptance, and eventually support.

Below we will clarify many of the misconceptions that C-Suite executives have regarding Active Shooter Events and WVTPs.

“Active Shooter Events are so statistically unlikely that training is not justified.”

“We don’t have that problem here!” That was the response of a senior manager at a company when I suggested we needed to discuss workplace violence.

In fact, that specific company was in such denial that they bristled at the mere mention of violence, much less the idea of training our employees to address it. The company’s plan was to hope that nothing happened.

Hope is not a strategy.

Although “active shooter” events are statistically unlikely, according to the FBI, 70% of these incidents occur at businesses or schools. While many of your coworkers think “active shooter” and “workplace violence” are the same, the effect of all types of violence at work needs addressing in any credible program.

There are an estimated 2 million victims of non-fatal violence in American workplaces and another 1,000 homicides.

Active Shooter incidents need consideration as “low probability, high-consequence” and therefore warrant discussion. The value of training cannot be understated, particularly as it relates to human response to a crisis.

Study after study shows that, when facing extremely stressful events, even those with minimal training, react faster, more appropriately, and increase their chances of survival.

Finally, the role of violence prevention in your program must consistently be emphasized. Prevention of events threatening to employees and those that increase a company’s liability are much easier to sell than those focused only on reactive measures.

“There is no specific OSHA Standard requiring us to address Workplace Violence.”

After transitioning from government to the corporate arena, I was surprised by the attention given to regulators, especially OSHA.

Currently, there is no specific workplace violence standard. However, OSHA’s General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free of conditions or activities that either the employer or industry recognizes as hazardous and that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical harm to employees when there is a feasible method to abate the hazard.

In simple terms, employers are required to provide a safe workplace when there is an easy alternative to avoid it. Workplace violence is all to common (2+ million victims in U.S. workplaces), and can be handled properly with the right training.

Furthermore, employers who have experienced WV and related threats, are on notice and should implement a program that includes training of employees.

But, despite OSHA's clarity that requires attention to these issues, the regulatory arena is complicated. The best way to handle this one is to elicit the opinion of your in-house legal team and let them make the case.

Finally, I suggest offering to “SharkTank” your training program by pitching your concerns and suggestions to legal to get their feedback and support early in the process.

This way you can refine the pitch to your superiors and enhance your chances of receiving positive feedback and implementing the program.

“A WVTP will demonstrate to our employees that they are vulnerable and make them afraid to come to work.”

With the current events regarding mass shootings in the U.S., most coworkers are already concerned, and most are even scared.

Every time a violent workplace event received media attention, I was approached by coworkers asking “What is our company doing to protect us?” and “What should I do if this happens here?”.

There is, however, some truth to this criticism of WVTPs.

Effective programs may reveal vulnerability to employees who blindly deny the threat's existence or depend on in-house security or first responders to protect them in all situations.

Be ready for “the question”. Invariably, every time I teach this, I am asked: “If law enforcement can't protect me, why can’t I, as an authorized concealed weapon carrier, bring my firearm to work to protect myself?

Although some companies are beginning to soften their policy in this area, most maintain a “zero tolerance” stance and prohibit firearms at work.

It’s a tough question, but one that will definitely be asked. Be prepared with a clear policy statement and stand by for some lively discussion.

One company I worked for gave their employees free LifeLock credit monitoring, presumably as a perk to show their concern for employees and their families.

Perks like this may create a marketing opportunity for your WVTP. These programs transcend the workplace and equip employees to react to violence wherever they are.

I suggest marketing your program to the company not as “internal job training” but as a “life skill” provided to protect employees at the mall, the theater, or wherever.

Soon after adopting this tactic, I was asked by a manager of a remote office to provide it to both employees and family members. The office scheduled the program for evening hours, invited spouses and older children, and served dinner.

The employees saw it as a gift from the company to keep them and their families safe.

“We already have too many mandatory training programs. We can’t afford another one.”

Avoid the urge to make your training mandatory, particularly in the early phases of development. Offer the program to those who are asking for it and report their feedback—positive and negative—to resistant leaders.

Be prepared to identify program changes you plan to make in response to negative feedback.

Early in the development process, identify those employees at statistically highest risk of violence, such as taxi drivers, those providing service to the public, and those handling cash or valuables.

Prioritize these workers because the need is greatest and because resistant leaders are more likely to support training of these positions.

Companies constantly provide training to their employees to ensure they are aware of specific policies and procedures, especially when they are serious, “zero tolerance” matters.

Most companies have multiple policies in place related to threats, fighting, harassment, etc., and since there is typically no second chance for violations of these policies, employee training is critical.

In Summary

So far, we have covered the misconceptions behind the relevance of WPVT despite its likelihood, the OSHA requirements to create a safe work environment, the lack of vulnerability shown with training, and the mandatory nature of WPVT programs.

  1. The training is there to prepare you in the unlikely, extreme event of workplace violence or active shooters.
  2. OSHA requires a safe work environment. While it doesn't mandate mandatory WPVT classes, they are very beneficial to adding an aware, prepared atmosphere to your workplace
  3. When employees hear about training like this, it's important to clarify that it will add protection and preparation to your workplace. It doesn't show vulnerability. It helps eliminate it
  4. And don't make the classes mandatory, especially at first. Let this be voluntary, adapt to needed changes, improve the program, and focus on the employees most at risk
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