Hardware solutions for workplace violence
 
Hardware solutions for workplace violence

Jan 1, 1997 12:00 PM
By BONNIE S. MICHELMAN

Workplace violence has reached epidemic proportions. It goes beyond the occasional frustrated postal worker who takes his violent revenge. It is a pervasive problem, unbiased in the industries and companies it affects.

There are three basic categories of workplace violence:

* attacks by customers (e.g., a deceased patient's family seeks revenge against a hospital staff for a loved one's death);

* attacks by employees (e.g., a 20-year employee is laid off and becomes violent toward supervisors/co-workers); and

* incidents of random violence (e.g., someone snapping and shooting people randomly). In any of these scenarios, hardware - or security technology as it is often called - can be valuable in reducing the risk and the severity of workplace violence.

Technology that can be used to reduce the risk of workplace violence includes:

* locking devices; * access control systems (card readers, proximity systems); * closed circuit television systems; * alarms, belts and sirens; * safes, vaults and cash-handling devices; * intercom systems; * radio systems (two-way); * personal safety devices (beepers, pagers, pepper spray); * panic switches/alarms; * telecommunications equipment; and * sensor device systems (infant abduction tag systems).

Technology can assist in reducing the risk and severity of workplace violence in several major ways.

* Equipment can deter crime. Obvious, well-marked, tamper-proof closed circuit television cameras in parking lots, emergency rooms and supply areas keep some people from committing crimes or violent acts for fear of being caught. It is difficult to quantify the deterrent effect of equipment because it involves predicting what would have happened if the equipment/systems had not existed. Systems are particularly good deterrents to crimes involving intent and forethought rather than crimes of passion or opportunity. Most people concern themselves with ramifications of their actions and will think twice if they believe they may get caught, in part because of the hardware that exists.

* Equipment restricts opportunities for crime. A card reader system, for example, will restrict someone entering a research facility with the intent of harming a researcher. An intercom or alarm system allows a person under duress to get help. Locks and safes are examples of devices that restrict access to areas, to valuables and to people who might otherwise be victimized. They diminish or at least slow down the opportunity to carry out a successful crime. An infant abduction system uses infant tags to activate a sensor while deactivating doors or elevators to preclude someone from abducting a baby.

* Hardware provides a reactive benefit. When a camera system records the details of a crime, it enables law enforcement or security personnel to take action, apprehend the perpetrator and help the victim. An access control system can assist with investigations by generating reports on who entered/exited areas at particular times. Apprehending perpetrators with the help of technology decreases the potential for future occurrences (depending on the type of incident). For example, if an employee is caught in a physical confrontation on camera and is terminated, it will have an impact on similar behavior in the future.

* The severity of violence can be minimized by well-designed systems. If a person is attacked and can summon help immediately with an alarm, intercom or call system, response may stop or curtail the incident. Response of immediate medical care could be life-saving. Systems are especially critical in vulnerable or high-risk locations. Any equipment or technology that minimizes suffering, injury or damage from workplace violence is an investment that cannot be debated.

Companies that have used technology to minimize the potential for violence include:

* Florida Power and Light last year issued smart identification cards that restrict its 11,100 employees to authorized areas and help keep track of equipment and supplies. If an employee leaves his card at home, an officer can call up a digitized photograph on a computer screen.

* At Motorola's big pager plant in Boynton Beach, Fla., an access card system restricts employee movement and keeps a permanent record of all ingress and egress in sensitive areas. A CCTV system records assembly line workers.

* Mellon Bank Corp. of Pittsburgh has installed metal-detecting, double-door man traps in 15 robbery-prone branch offices, mostly in Philadelphia. If a walk-through machine detects a gun-size metal object, it automatically locks both doors. Ditto for someone who enters the bank, passes a robbery foyer, then places a hand on a biometric reader to pass the second door. If the hand does not match, the chamber locks up and an alarm sounds.

Good equipment is essential in creating an environment that discourages, prevents and responds to workplace violence. If hardware is used correctly, companies will save money in lower numbers of incidents, diminished litigation and improved peace of mind. Employees and customers feel better about their personal safety and more confident in the workplace if there is updated and appropriate hardware to supplement the overall security effort. And employees stay at companies longer when they feel safe, which has a positive economic effect for a corporation.

Most importantly, systems and hardware must be properly designed, installed, integrated and maintained to be effective. When designing hardware, users must understand the function of the hardware, how to use it completely, and how it can help to stop violent crimes.

Until society is free of workplace violence, it is important to develop new technologies and hardware and to educate others about uses and benefits. The goal must be to reduce the risk of workplace violence and protect all of those in our organizations.

Violence is biggest concern, says survey of Fortune 1000 Workplace violence is the number one security concern among Fortune 1000 companies across America for the second straight year, according to the 1996 Pinkerton Security Issues survey. Employee theft, ethical business conduct, employee selection and crisis management rounded out the top five security-related concerns.

In the fourth year of the survey, surveys were sent to the corporate security directors of the Fortune 1000 companies. The results of this survey contradict the beliefs of some analysts that workplace violence was a temporary concern, says Don W. Walker, Pinkerton executive vice president. Workplace violence remains a concern of corporate America and should be taken seriously. Causes of workplace violence include job layoffs, disciplinary actions, firing and pay cuts, any of which may trigger a violent reaction from a distressed or disgruntled employee. Non-job-related catalysts include mental illness, substance abuse and sexual harassment.

The survey also indicates increased concern regarding computer theft and Internet security. So-called theft of time can be as debilitating to corporations as theft of resources. Employees with Internet access during work hours may abuse the privilege and waste company time surfing the Net, while others may download sensitive company information. Surprisingly, corporate security directors downplayed the threat of terrorism. It dropped to 15th from 14th in 1995 and 8th in 1994. Security managers are more interested in countermeasures than in terrorist groups per se, says Frank Johns, manager of Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services in Arlington, Va. Although terrorism remains a global threat, American companies feel they are better equipped today than they were a year and a half ago in the wake of Oklahoma City.

In the fourth year of the survey, surveys were sent to the corporate security directors of the Fortune 1000 companies. The results of this survey contradict the beliefs of some analysts that workplace violence was a temporary concern, says Don W. Walker, Pinkerton executive vice president. Workplace violence remains a concern of corporate America and should be taken seriously.

Causes of workplace violence include job layoffs, disciplinary actions, firing and pay cuts, any of which may trigger a violent reaction from a distressed or disgruntled employee. Non-job-related catalysts include mental illness, substance abuse and sexual harassment.

The survey also indicates increased concern regarding computer theft and Internet security. So-called theft of time can be as debilitating to corporations as theft of resources. Employees with Internet access during work hours may abuse the privilege and waste company time surfing the Net, while others may download sensitive company information.

Surprisingly, corporate security directors downplayed the threat of terrorism. It dropped to 15th from 14th in 1995 and 8th in 1994.

 
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