Taking Measures to Avoid Workplace Violence

A look at how Wisconsin businesses are using technology and employee training to avoid violence

When David McLean, human resources director for Inacom Information Systems, walked through the company's Brookfield office, he saw several security holes in the building, which houses 25 employees.

Inacom, a Madison-based provider of technology consulting, education and procurement, has computer service customers, engineering clients and students entering and leaving the office on a regular basis.

"Our office location in Brookfield offered a particularly unique challenge," McLean said. "Two entrances, a high volume of foot and vehicle traffic and a lack of knowledge of where employees were at a given time meant a lot of potential threats to employees and customers," he said. Nearly 5 percent of companies have seen violence in their workplace, according to a survey by the U.S. Department of Labor, and half of companies with 1,000 or more employees reported a violent incident.

In Madison in 1988, a 20-year-old gunman shot and killed coroner Clyde Chamberlin and his secretary Eleanor Townsend in the City-County Building. As a result, security was increased in the building to include security guards and metal detectors for weapons screening. The new Dane County Courthouse, which opened in January 2006, took the place of the City-County Building and has weapons screening for all employees as well as visitors entering the building.

And just over two months ago, the Weston School Principal John Klang was shot and killed by a student. The school has a police officer stationed on-site and is working to establish what Tom Andres, district safety coordinator, calls a "logical, common-sense approach" to security, which may include video surveillance.

While deadly incidents like these are rare, experts in the Capital Region say providing a secure workplace is increasingly important. Violent incidents can result in fear among the employees, absenteeism, turnover, low morale and lower productivity, according to the Department of Labor's 2005 Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention.

Burt Boldebuck, president of Boldtronics, a Madison-based video surveillance company, uses his 22 years of law enforcement experience and a retail security background to help businesses protect their employees and their assets by using video surveillance. Boldebuck works with schools, hair salons, cheese factories and companies in other industries, and says that proper camera placement is crucial in helping identify perpetrators. Video surveillance systems have the capability to print out photos of suspects that can be given to the police and distributed to area businesses. "If a picture is worth a thousand words," said Boldebuck, "a video is worth a million."

But video surveillance is only one piece of the security puzzle. Electronic badges, ID cards or keypad controls that employees use to gain access to the building are common at large corporations that have hundreds of employees.

Joe Abrisz, general manager of Per Mar Security Services, based in Davenport, Iowa, with offices in the Capital Region, said businesses using these tools can easily remove access to an employee who has been terminated or who leaves the company. Abrisz said this is a huge improvement over the time when keys and locks were in use as it was harder to ensure that all keys were turned in when employees left the company.

Keypads can also be programmed to allow employees access to the building at specific times so that it's easier for building management to monitor who is in the building at any given time.

Some businesses, like Hilldale Shopping Center, East Towne and West Towne malls use security guards who walk the inside of the mall regularly and mobile patrols who observe the parking lot to ensure customer and employee safety.

Security tools

At Inacom's Brookfield office, McLean improved the security by limiting access to one entrance so that every employee could be accounted for. The second exit was locked to the outside and fitted with an alarm to ensure that anyone leaving from that exit alerted the rest of the staff.

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