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I spent a decade working as a loss prevention manager for a large North American retailer. My experiences in that role demonstrated to me that the idea that workplace violence doesn’t happen is—unfortunately—not true. Employers truly never know how an employee is handling stress, or even how customers are handling stress.

We can risk that workplace violence or other incidents that threaten employee safety won’t occur in our environment, but the best approach is to plan ahead in the event that it does.

There are four important elements to include in your Workplace Safety plan.

1. Policies

Maintaining a safe workplace is an important part of any organization’s operation. When you put policies in place, you’re actively promoting safety on the job, setting expectations, adhering to applicable laws, and communicating that safety is every employee’s responsibility. Policies don’t need to be extensive but should highlight desired safety practices as well as the process to report any unsafe conditions. The policy should be regularly reviewed and updated based on current conditions and relevant workplace concerns.

Safety Committee

Establishing a safety committee that meets on a monthly or quarterly basis is an important way to address potential emergencies before they happen. The Safety Committee regularly reviews policies and helps identify additional processes and procedures to ensure the environment is safe and employees know what to do in the case of an emergency.

A safety committee should focus on a three-pronged approach to workplace safety:

      • Plan: Create policies and teams.
      • Prepare: Identify risks or concerns, buy first aid equipment or supplies, conduct drills and provide training.
      • Recover: Determine how the organization will recover after a safety incident occurs—account for employees, communicate with staff, provide support for those returning to work, rebuild systems, fix equipment, etc.

2. Processes and procedures

Several of the “active shooter” scenarios that occurred while I was on the loss prevention team took place at neighboring stores or parking areas. Those shootings impacted our organization because when the shooters acted and fled the scene, they ran into our stores or parking areas which put our employees and our customers in danger.

As part of your Workplace Safety plan, ensure that you have processes and procedures to address emergencies:

      • For emergencies inside the workplace put a process in place regarding when, where, and how to evacuate. Instruct teams to have a place to meet and make sure there’s a contact list to identify, account for, and contact any missing team members.
      • For emergencies outside the workplace put a process in place to lockdown your facility. If a complete lockdown isn’t an option, put processes and procedures in place that inform employees how to shelter in place.

As you examine your plans, ensure that they address and capture the needs of employees who may be physically, visually, or hearing impaired. Identify how these employees or customers will be notified of an emergency, and in the case of employees or customers that may need physical assistance in evacuating, ensure members of your team are adequately trained in a buddy lift or other manner to evacuate.

If your organization is a tenant of a larger building, check in with the property management team to make sure your processes and procedures support and utilize any emergency plans that are already in place.

3. Practice

Employees may groan about workplace safety drills, but they’re a critically important part of your plan. In an emergency situation, people may become disoriented, scared, or be reacting to adrenaline; in those conditions, common sense can quickly disappear. I myself have observed adults hide in response to a fire alarm, rather than evacuating.

You want to help inform employees about the steps they can take to stay as safe as possible in any situation. Consider picking a safety topic each quarter and work with the Safety Committee to plan a drill for events that could happen. As the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) website suggests, there are many emergencies that can occur: floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, toxic gas releases/chemical spills, explosions, civil disturbances, and workplace violence.

We think we’ll know what to do. But in many cases, our response to fear and adrenaline can be detrimental. Providing regular and consistent training to employees can increase desired and predictable responses to an emergency, reduce anxiety, and help keep your team safe. With that in mind, it is also important to spend time debriefing a drill or training scenario. Use this time to discuss what can be improved and identify steps or processes employees can take to make their good safety responses be more instinctual.

Of course, none of us want to imagine the “what if” safety scenarios which could take place in our work environment—they are scary and potentially very dangerous. However, with a workplace safety policy, a Safety Committee, and plenty of opportunities to practice the processes and procedures that support a safe organization, you’re much better prepared if an emergency occurs.