Workplace Violence

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Most of our readers have probably heard of the Rule of Four S’s.  I think John and I have both referenced it before in articles in the past.  I believe this rule is generally accredited to the great John Farnam (though I think his version had three S’s rather than four, but whatever).  The rule goes as follows:  don’t go to Stupid places at Stupid times with Stupid people doing Stupid things.  Pretty simple.  The gist is that if you follow this rule, your chances of bad things happening to you are dramatically reduced.

Obviously, what constitutes “Stupid” in each of the four parameters above is subject to perspective.  Dealing illegal drugs on a street corner in Northeast Philadelphia at 2 AM with three trigger happy friends could probably be universally described as violating all of the “rules”.  Likewise, the one fight I was involved in within the last 15 years took place when I violated all the rules (bar, 11 PM, with brother and his crazy fiancée, who always do stupid things).  I would not normally call attendance at a daytime major league baseball game a violation of the “rule”.  However, such an event attended by thousands of people could be the target of some sinister minds, so maybe it does qualify (hence certain aspects of my article on secure areas). 

Although I do sometimes question my career choice, I would not generally call “going to work” as a violation of the “rule” (notwithstanding career choices like the street corner pharmaceutical representatives mentioned above).  However, I have read in numerous places that, statistically, one of the places you are most likely to die a violent death is, of all places, WORK (no matter your profession).  Now, this might be shocking to some until you really think about it.  If you work an 8 or 9 hour day, sleep 6-8 hours each day, spend an hour getting to and from work each day, some time running errands, awake time at home in front of the television (or reading this blog?), then you can quickly see that the place outside your home where you spend the most time is work.  So it stands to reason that the place where you spend the most time amongst non-family members would be the place where you are most likely to become a victim of violence.

Keep in mind that YOU do not have to be the intended target.  It could be that the woman in the opposite cubicle has been cheating on her significant other, who stops by for revenge.  It could be (as it so often seems to be) that a divorcing couple are having a custody battle that gets beyond ugly, again with revenge as the “answer”.  It could be that a former employee pays a visit to his former boss, whose office is next to yours.  As close and as friendly as you might be with your co-workers, it is unlikely that you will be aware of the skeletons in their closets that might put YOU in danger just by being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the last week, we have seen two national-news-worthy incidents of violent crime in the workplace.  A former employee of a health club in Coral Gables, FL, who chose to exact revenge upon his former employer, and then, just yesterday, a husband who shot his wife (and, unfortunately, two students) at the school where she worked in San Bernardino, CA.  Who knows how many similar incidents happened across the country over the last week that did not make the national news?

Let this be a wake-up call to me and to you.  Do you carry a firearm at work?  Can you, legally?  If legally you can but are prohibited by workplace rules, do you violate the rules?  To what risk?  What other options are there for your self-defense at work? 

I will share a bit about my own situation.  I am a teacher.  Threats to me could vary:

1.       An upset student;

2.       An irate parent/sibling/friend of a student;

3.       Someone from the community who gains access to the school;

4.       “Domestic” incidents involving my co-workers;

5.       A former employee upset about losing his/her job;

6.       The next random school shooter;

7.       A political terrorist of some type.

Those are just some of the possible threats.  Solutions for me are not the best.  Though I have been willing to push the envelope a lot in terms of when/where I carry, I have, to date, been unwilling to carry at work.  Not only would I be breaking school rules, but also local and possibly some federal laws that could result in jail time.  I would also lose my job and I can pretty much guarantee that my teaching certificate would be revoked. 

However, I do keep certain tools on me or nearby that could prove quite useful.  I typically carry a small folding knife (against school policy and some local laws, but I have occasionally taken it out and used it to cut cardboard, etc., in front of fellow staff members who never gave it a thought).  I usually have pepper spray with me (again, breaking some rules/laws here, but given some incidents in the parking lot with local hoodlums, I don’t think my bosses would really care much if they found out).  I also keep a LONG screwdriver in my desk (to repair student desks, which are always falling apart….I think I heard Steve Fisher suggest this one once!), and I have a dry chemical fire extinguisher just outside my classroom door (useful as a “smokescreen”, could use as a “club”, and could also temporarily blind an attacker if shot in the eyes).  I also carry my ankle IFAK and have a second blow-out kit in the bag I carry to work each day.  Crazy as it may sound, I am considering adding a long, knotted rope to my classroom to utilize if I have to evacuate out one of the windows (my room is on the second floor).  John asked me if I have considered door wedges; alas, with current fire codes, my classroom door opens outward.  Though my door can be locked with a key I carry, I am exploring other options in this area.

Let these recent events serve as an alarm to you.  Do a risk analysis on what “tools” you can carry at work.  If the ideal tools just will not work for you (as in my situation), see what alternatives you can come up with.  Can you carry/have nearby a seemingly innocuous tool, like a screwdriver?  Likewise, see what is around you where you work (like my fire extinguisher example) that can be used.  Keep a blow-out kit on you or nearby.  Maintain physical fitness in case you have to move desks, filing cabinets, appliances, etc., to barricade doors, or so that you can move quickly enough to escape.  Some prior thought and planning can help minimize your risk at a place where you SHOULD not be at risk, but very well might be. 

Thanks for reading.  If you have any questions or comments, please add them below or on our Facebook page.

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