For Safety’s Sake: Managing the Risks of Workplace Violence

No property is completely immune to danger, but two experts from Hub International offer strategies that will help owners and managers mitigate the risks.
Chris Dunlap & Isaac Monson  Images courtesy of Hub International

Property owners and managers today should be mindful of a sobering statistic: Since 2000, there have been more than 300 active shooter events in the U.S. In addition, varying degrees of workplace and domestic violence occur daily. Such routine acts of violence are commonly the precursors to mass shooting situations.

As the frequency grows, more and more victims and their families are looking to the facility owner/operator where the shooting took place to assume responsibility. They claim the owner/operator could have been more proactive in prevention, and therefore, is liable for the violence that took place on their property. 

In a number of cases, the property owner/operator has even been taken to court for damages. The landlord and/or business owners in the 2012 Aurora movie theater and 2017 Mandalay Bay hotel shootings were both sued in the aftermath.

While there’s no doubt that property owners and operators have a “duty to protect” occupants, the question of negligence revolves around the “foreseeability” of the violent event.

The issue of foreseeability is tied to a building’s risk factors and prevention. Does the strip mall have higher-risk industry tenant? Did the church receive previous threats of violence? If so, did they increase security, and alert authorities? Does the property owner/operator have a violence prevention plan in place?  

Regardless of the outcomes of litigation, property owners/operators will still incur the cost of legal defense, and may also incur the expense of things like  medical expenses, funerals, building refurbishments, loss of business and victim settlements. These costs may not be covered by a typical general liability or property policy and, when significant damage is done, or the case is high-profile, costs can be high. For example, estimates place the cost of the Mandalay Bay incident at $600 million.   

Managing foreseeable risks 

True story: An employee that was terminated from his job returned the following day with a gun and opened fire on the staff. During the investigation, it came to light that no one alerted human resources or security that the employee had been terminated. Therefore, he entered the building legitimately with his employee key card and had full access to the office.

Physical security alone is not enough. Pairing physical security efforts with a violence prevention program has proven to be significantly more effective. Aim to reduce your foreseeable risk with the following best practices:

Identify important stakeholders, and assemble a safety/workplace violence prevention committee to serve as leaders in the process. Ensure this group has received basic workplace violence awareness training so they are working from a shared understanding of the topic and known best practices. They will champion program development and sustained deployment.

Complete a risk assessment at each property in your portfolio. Violent events are most often caused by someone who knows the establishment or is seeking it out, like a disgruntled employee or customer. Facilities that house certain services or industries will face greater risks, including healthcare services, social services, pharmacies, convenience stores or establishments that serve alcohol. Regardless of how many properties are in your real estate portfolio, acknowledge each for its own individual hazards and risks.

Build a violence prevention program around the types of businesses that occupy your facility. Consider the types of businesses that occupy your facility and the types of violence that exist in your area. Both are a direct indication of the type of program you need to employ. When developing a program, review and follow existing violence prevention plan standards and guidelines, which include elements like physical security, dedicated HR policies, an incident-reporting process and a process to assess known threats as they arise. Recognizing early warning signs and indicators, coupled with a robust violence prevention program, can greatly diminish the chances of a violent event.

Work with your broker to assess your current property and general liability policies. Find out what they cover in the case of a violent event, and with what limits. When necessary, consider additional protection including the following policies: Active Assailant, Bereavement Counseling Benefit, Crisis Management, Crisis Response, Employee Assistance Programs and Workplace Violence Coverage. Should you engage one of these endorsements, pay attention to its sublimits. Make sure they are adequate enough to deal with a violent event.

Chris Dunlap is a vice president and senior risk consultant with global insurance broker Hub International’s Real Estate division. Isaac Monson is a senior risk consultant with HUB International’s Risk Services Division.

For more about preventing workplace violence, listen to the on-demand webinar, “Building a Safe Environment”