This website is happy to announce the addition of Michael W. Wanik as one of our contributing writers addressing the topic of security management.  The following article, which discusses workplace violence as a risk management concern, is the first in what we hope to be a long string of articles presented to our readership by Michael.

Managing Your Workplace Violence Risk

By: Michael Wanik, CPP, CBCP

In August this year, a horrific act of workplace violence occurred at a Manchester, Connecticut business. An employee who had been confronted after he was apparently documented on video for stealing product opened fire on his coworkers and supervisors. At the end of the event, eight employees and the shooter were dead.

As you might expect, an act like this causes business leaders and employees to review their risk management strategies, policies and procedures.

Additionally, our phone began to ring with inquiries about workplace violence and what could be done to avoid it. Our answer to these inquiries was that there is no singular solution to prevent such an act, and, as a result, an organization must address many different aspects of risk management if they wish to avoid or at least mitigate the possibility of having that kind of incident occur to and at their own organization.

First, let’s level set. Not every workplace violence event is a multiple victim homicide. Each and every day there are events in the workplace that can and are categorized as workplace violence. Events such as but not limited to: bullying, harassment and intimidation can be considered workplace violence or at the very least, unacceptable conduct that can ultimately lead to physical violence.   

ASIS International, the leading professional security organization defines workplace violence as a “broad range of behaviors falling along a spectrum that, due to their nature and/or severity, significantly affect the workplace, generate a concern for personal safety, or result in physical injury or death.” 

Additionally, the workplace setting varies. A home healthcare provider’s workplace might be his transport vehicle or a patient home. A taxi driver operates his workplace. Thus, there are different threats and vulnerabilities based upon a worker’s job location. A convenience store operator working at 2am by himself probably has a higher general risk of workplace violence than a clerk in an accounting firm. However, circumstances can quickly change the threat level. 

Every corporation should have a publicized workplace violence policy and plan of action, that is understood fully and practiced by trained personel,  and should also conduct pre-employment criminal and employment screening. Many times, firms hiring people look to a background check as only a compliance requirement issue. A good screening conducted with proper interview techniques can avoid many issues such as potential workforce violence because very often historical conduct can preview the potential for a forthcoming situation or disruptive incident. 

Another suggestion is that a publicized anonymous reporting mechanism can also be put in place which allows for employees who know of non-compliance by others to be reported for review and appropriate action. In some cases where an employee’s “hair goes up on the back of the neck”; they fail to report the feeling or observation for fear that they will subsequently be targeted. 

Trained managers who observe or are made aware of possible workplace violence offenders must know how to correctly and swiftly address the situation. Failure to do so can result in a negligent retention type of lawsuit at the least.

Managers terminating agitated, confronted or historically vocal employees should be aware of resources that can be made available to them to control potential situations. 

Companies tuned into their risk management issues and who have taken action to mitigate those risks will effectively confront their vulnerabilities and create a culture of security compliance every day within their organizations. 

Those that are not sensitive and reactive to potential risk management issues of workplace violence are more exposed, and when a potential situation arises — they will find that you can’t enact good security and safety practices as the threat arrives on their doorstep. 

Further, some workplace violence events have occurred many years later as where and when the assailant blames his current situation having been created by their former employer. 

You can’t easily create an environment which entirely halts every incident or kind of workplace violence; however, with proper employee screening, tools, training and protocols, along with effective policies and procedures such as mentioned above, you can greatly reduce your exposure to workplace violence and, hopefully, improve your ability to effectively recover from such a disruptive incident when and if it occurs. 

If any of our readers have additional comments or thoughts to add to this topic of workplace violence, please do so.

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Michael W. Wanik is SSC’s Vice President of Consulting and Investigations. He is board certified in security management and business continuity planning. Prior to joining SSC, he spent more than 13 years at UnitedHealth Group as the company’s corporate security director responsible for international operations. 

At UnitedHealth, Mike was responsible for security related risk at owned and contracted operations in 44 countries. Mike led the development, implementation and enforcement of security and safety policies and standards for the protection of human, physical and intellectual assets. In addition, Mike was responsible for facilitation of all SAS-70, continuity of operations and similar audits; he also was a member of UnitedHealth Groups Enterprise Emergency Management Team and led the Hartford Campus team.

Mike has a robust background in providing risk management consulting to protect people, process, technology, information and environments in sensitive operations around the world. He has been intimately involved with world stage situations such as 9/11 and the recent attacks in Mumbai, India. His experience in crisis management and recovery from these situations is from practice; not theory.

Mike was an early supporter and practitioner of convergence, wherein he partnered with information security and privacy personnel to better protect an entity from theft and disruption. In addition to his extensive risk mitigation background, Mike also has years of experience conducting criminal and traffic investigations from his service in the United States Army, where he served as a Criminal Investigation Supervisor and Military Police Substation Commander.

Mike attended and later taught at Central Texas College and was the senior law enforcement instructor at a satellite Military Police School created to support Operation Desert Shield/Storm. Mike currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Police Commissioners in New Britain, Connecticut; a department with an authorized strength of 158 sworn officers. He is an active member of ASIS International, Infragard, the Disabled American Veterans and the Association of Contingency Planners. Within each of these organizations, he either currently holds or has held leadership positions.

Mike can be contacted at 203-925-6182 or mwanik@sscintel.com.

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