Many, if not all, U.S. federal agencies are serious about preventing acts of violence in the federal workplace. Some entities, such as the Occupation Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), have had them in place for some time, and even provide a gold standard of national guidance, best practices and statistical insight on how to prevent incidents of workplace violence in hospitals, factories and schools. Others are ramping up their capabilities – and in the process, getting better at preventing incidents that take lives. But not all of them. And not necessarily fast enough.

Acts of Aggression in the Federal Workplace Are Not Uncommon

Throughout my 30-year career in the security risk management industry, I always hear the same thing: “I never thought it would happen to me.” When tragedy strikes, especially something such as violence in the workplace, we are always surprised and rarely “see” it coming. The federal government is not an exception. Consider these few high-profile examples of workplace violence in federal entities over the past few years:

  • 2009:  A U.S. Army psychiatrist fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others at Ft. Hood Texas.
  • 2012: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent shot and killed his supervisor in Long Beach, California.
  • 2013:  An IT contractor killed twelve people and injured three others at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. 
  • 2014: Another Ft. Hood shooting by an Army Specialist who shot and killed three people while injuring 14 others.

How to Recognize the Warning Signs of a Potentially Violent Incident

Although it’s impossible to predict the future, knowing and identifying warning signs is critical to the safety of your employees. In each of the above situations, the shooters all exhibited warning signs that were identified before the incidents. But identifying the signs isn’t always enough: workplaces need to have policies and procedures in place so employees know what action to take when they see these warning signs. Federal agencies are well aware that this issue is of paramount concern and that preventive programs need to be developed.

Our firm was recently awarded a task order from the Social Security Administration to provide technical training in violence risk management, enhanced cognitive interviewing techniques, and tailored consultation for behavioral threat assessments and analysis, as well as case strategy and management planning.

Federal Workplace Violence Prevention: 3 Actions You Can Take to Protect Your Agency’s Personnel

The Merit Systems Protection Board, a federal agency empowered to prevent prohibited personnel practices in the federal workplace, released a 2010 survey that revealed that 13% of the federal workforce witnessed violence in their workplace usually “perpetrated by current or former employees.” The report made several recommendations to prevent incidents of workplace violence:

  1. Provide federal workplace violence prevention training to all of your employees, including topics such as the organization’s policies, programs and procedures related to violence in the workplace; the availability of employee assistance programs; how to report an incident of workplace violence; and the warning signs of violent behaviors and what to do if those warning signs are observed.
  2. Train all employees as to what constitutes acceptable behavior within the organization; highlighted, of course, by the notion that threatening, harassing, intimidating or bullying their co-workers will not be tolerated.
  3. Provide resources to supervisors to familiarize them with conflict resolution and how to access internal and external resources for assistance in dealing with the warning signs of workplace violence, incidents of workplace violence, and the aftermath of an incident. Supervisory training should also include the consistent and effective application of employee discipline, which may be especially important in organizations where no human resources representatives are located.

We are pleased to support and collaborate with the Social Security Administration as they have clearly recognized the critical need to protect their organization from workplace violence by developing a program that has been proven to prevent acts of targeted violence.

If you would like more information about this critically important need in the federal workforce, please contact me.