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Walmart shooting raises need for workplace violence prevention

mass shooting on Wednesday a Walmart in Virginia was only the latest instance of an employee being shot in the workplace.

But while many companies offer active shooting training, experts say there is little focus on how to prevent violence in the workplace, particularly how to identify and address worrisome behavior among employees.

According to workplace safety and human resources experts, employees often don’t know how to recognize the warning signs, and more importantly, don’t know how to report suspicious behavior or feel empowered to do so.

“We’ve created an industry out of taking out the bad guys. We’ve invested heavily in physical security measures like metal detectors, cameras and armed security guards,” said James Densley, a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University in DePaul, Minnesota. . Co-founder of the non-profit and nonpartisan research group The Violence Project. But often in workplace shootings, he said, “it’s someone who already has access to the building.”

The Walmart shooting in particular raised questions about whether employees felt empowered to speak out because it was a team leader who carried out the shooting.


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Walmart identified the gunman as Andre Bing, 31, who had worked for Walmart since 2010 and his most recent position at the Chesapeake, Virginia store was “overnight team lead,” according to the company. Police say he opened fire on fellow employees in the break room, killing six people and injuring six others, and apparently killed himself.

Employee Brianna Tyler, who narrowly escaped being shot, said the gunman was not targeting any specific individual. Tyler, who started at Walmart two months ago, said she never had a negative encounter with him, but others told her he was a “manager to watch out for.” He said Bing has a history of texting people for no reason.

Two of the deceased victims were identified by family members as 22-year-old Tyneka Johnson and 39-year-old Brian Pendleton. The city of Chesapeake identified the remaining adult victims Wednesday evening as Lorenzo Gamble, Kelly Pyle, Randall Blevins. The city said the identity of the sixth victim, a 16-year-old boy, was being withheld because he was a minor.

Policy change after 2019 shootings

Walmart introduced a computer-based active shooter training in 2015 that focused on three pillars: avoiding danger, keeping your distance, and finally defending. Then, after a mass shooting in 2019 in El Paso, Texas, a store with a gunman killed 22 people, Walmart addressed the threat to the public by discontinuing the sale of certain types of ammunition and requiring that customers no longer openly carry firearms in its stores. It now only sells hunting rifles and associated ammunition.

Walmart did not specifically respond to questions on Wednesday seeking more details about its training and protocols to protect its workers. The company only said that it regularly reviews its training policies and will continue to do so.

Densley said employers need to create open channels for employees to raise concerns about employee behavior, including confidential hotlines. He said attention is often focused on “red flags” and that workers should look for “yellow flags” — subtle changes in behavior, such as increased anger or not showing up for work. Densley said managers need to work with those individuals to provide counseling and regular check-ins.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security’s Active Shooting Manual states that human resources officers have a responsibility to “create a system for reporting signs of potential violence behavior.” It also encourages employees to report behaviors such as increased absenteeism and repeated violations of company policies.

But many employers may not have such prevention policies in place, said Liz Peterson, quality manager for the Society for Human Resource Management, an organization of more than 300,000 human resources professionals.


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She noted that in a 2019 SHRM survey of its members, 55% of HR professionals said they did not know their organizations had policies in place to prevent workplace violence, and another 9% said they had such programs. is lacking. This was in contrast to the 57% of HR managers who said they had training in how to respond to violence.

A recent federal government report examining workplace violence over three decades found that workplace homicides have risen in recent years, although they are down sharply from their peak in the mid-1990s.

reduction in workplace homicides

The recent Walmart attack was the second major mass shooting in the US in the past few days. five people were killed and 17 others were injured When a suspect opened fire at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, early Sunday morning.

Between 2014 and 2019, workplace homicides nationwide rose 11% from 409 to 454, according to a report released in July by the Departments of Labor, Justice and Health. This was down 58% from the peak of 1,080 in 1994. and human service. The report found that workplace homicide trends largely mirrored homicide trends across the country.

Peterson said the nation’s spike in mass public shootings is raising awareness among employers to address mental health and prevent violence in the workplace — and could face liabilities if they ignore warning signs. .

In one high-profile example, a victim’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this year against a Northern California transportation agency, alleging it failed to address an employee’s history of threatening behavior. failed, who shot and killed nine co-workers. Light Railyard in San Jose in 2021.

The transportation agency released more than 200 pages of emails and other documents detailing the shooter, Samuel James Cassidy, the subject of four investigations into workplace conduct, and one worker concerned that Cassidy “might go postal.” The expression dates back to one of the deadliest workplace shootings in US history, when a postal worker shot and killed 14 workers in Edmond, Oklahoma in 1986.

“Workplace violence is something you never thought would happen to your organization, and unfortunately, it’s important to prepare for them because they’re becoming more common,” Peterson said.

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