Taking Measures to Avoid Workplace 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.

The company mandated the use of Microsoft Outlook's calendar function to track each employee's location to keep an accurate headcount in the event of fire, tornado or other natural disaster. McLean also implemented a "no employee alone" policy so that at no time were any of the employees on the premises alone during business hours.

In light of a rash of sexual assaults that have hit the Milwaukee area recently, "we decided to make the commitment to our employees to ensure their physical safety," McLean said. "As a human resources professional at Inacom, I can state without hesitation that our greatest assets are our people. Inacom will do anything that we can do to promote a safe, employee-friendly environment," he said.

Work with police

Copps Food Stores, a division of Milwaukee-based Roundy's Supermarkets, uses several methods to maintain a safe environment for both customers and employees.

"We have well-trained and committed security personnel on hand at our stores. Some are Roundy's employees, others are contracted from outside the company to provide this service in some of our stores," said Vivian King, director of public affairs at Roundy's. Copps uses closed-circuit TV to monitor the stores inside and out as well as burglar alarms. Copps also fosters a close relationship with the police departments in each of the communities in which the stores are located, which according to King is crucial to their security procedures. "We work together with local law enforcement officers when necessary to make sure customers and employees are safe. Our local police departments alert us to any trends they are seeing that could affect our stores. Likewise, we alert them to any trends we see that may threaten our store environment. When customers and employees arrive at a Copps store, they expect it to be safe and secure for shopping and working. It is imperative that we take the necessary steps to ensure that we maintain a positive environment," King said.

Green Bay-based Associated Banc-Corp, with several Capital Region Associated Bank locations, has experienced eight bank robberies during 2006 at their Madison-area locations. Sixteen bank robberies have occurred at Madison-area banks including the Associated Banks in 2006.

Associated Bank's South Central Regional President, David Stein, said employee and customer security is one of the company's top priorities.

"We take every precaution possible," he said, "including comprehensive employee training and the use of the latest in technology."

Get training

Training employees to handle emergency situations is also essential in ensuring the safety and security of employees. However, well over 70 percent of the respondents to the Department of Labor survey reported that they did not have a formal policy in place to address workplace violence.

Where can businesses get training? The Understanding and Preventing Workplace Violence seminar for businesses is available through the UW-Madison Police Department, located on Monroe Street. The two-hour program taught by police officers is free and can be customized to your business. The seminar is conducted at the police station or on location.

"We have learned through experience and testimony that many have found themselves as a victim or witness in a workplace violence incident; however, not all have shared those experiences," said Sergeant Ben Newman, training, recruitment and crime prevention officer from the UW Police Department. Newman has coordinated the seminar for the past 4 years, teaching staff at the UW campus, UW Hospital, the UW Foundation and other off-campus businesses.

The program discusses the definition of workplace violence, defines employees' role in safety and identifies potential threats. "So many staff members on campus and in other businesses go to work every day and do not think about workplace violence until an incident occurs," Newman said. "Training programs in prevention methods are under-utilized nationwide," he added.

What is workplace violence?

Workplace violence is defined in the Survey of Workplace Violence Prevention, 2005*, as violent acts directed toward a person at work or on duty, such as physical assaults, threats of assault, harassment, intimidation or bullying.

Workplace violence is classified in the survey as four types of situations:

Criminal incidents -- the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees and is usually committing a crime in conjunction with the violence such as robbery, shoplifting or trespassing.

Customer or client incidents -- the perpetrator has a legitimate relationship with the business and becomes violent while being served by the business.

Co-worker incidents -- the perpetrator is an employee, past employee of the business or contractor who attacks or threatens another employee.

Domestic violence incidents -- the perpetrator has no legitimate relationship to the business, but has a personal relationship with the intended victim and threatens or assaults the intended victim (family member, boyfriend or girlfriend) at the workplace. *The survey included 7.4 million business establishments in private industry, state government and local government throughout the country. Over 128 million workers were represented in the survey, which covered 12-month periods between September 2004 to June 2006, when the survey data collection period ended. Sixty-one percent of the businesses contacted responded to the survey and the results were released to the public at the end of October 2006.