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Workplace Violence and PTSD

Active-Shooter.pic .flyer  71ba6By Brian J. Riker

Although workplace violence-related deaths have fallen slightly the statistics are still alarming. According to the most recent data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor, there were 703 related deaths in 2017. This number is down from 866 in 2016 but still higher than previous years.

There have been several workplace violence incidents recently in the towing industry, with one tower shooting and critically injuring another tower just last week in western Pennsylvania. Often I read reports of towers being robbed or held at gunpoint, forced to release a vehicle or shot at while attempting a tow.

What about suicide? Although not common among towing operators it does happen. Of the 703 workplace violence deaths in 2017, 351 were caused by the intentional shooting by another person and 275 were suicides.

"There is a pressing need for organizations to understand that suicides that occur in the workplace are a growing problem," said W. Barry Nixon, executive director of the National Institute for Prevention of Workplace Violence.

I believe that, if studied, towers would have similar tendencies as other first responders to inflict self-harm after a traumatic event. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is real and needs to be addressed as part of your workplace violence and employee wellbeing policies.

Having a plan in place to address and prevent workplace violence is paramount. Many employers are already addressing active shooter incidents; however few recognize other forms of workplace violence.

Does your company have an updated plan to respond to these situations? Supervisors should be trained to recognize the early warning signs and have a process to act on this information in a timely manner. This training should include how to evaluate your employees as well as other potential threats such as distraught customers or visitors.

According to OSHA, the workers with the highest risk of exposure to violence are workers who exchange money with the public, delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel and those who work alone or in small groups. Towmen match several of these categories.

OSHA has several recommendations to reduce exposure to violence faced by for-hire drivers, several of which can be put into place by towing companies:

• Not accepting cash, especially late at night or on the roadside.
• Visible security cameras inside vehicles to discourage assault and provide evidence after an assault has occurred.
• GPS-tracking devices with panic buttons on vehicles.
• Regular check-in calls to verify drivers' welfare.
• Establishing a working relationship with local police and authorizing them to make welfare check traffic stops of your vehicles in high-risk areas.

These protocols are a good start and can be applied to most any type of service company or situation where someone is working in a remote area. Many of these physical deterrents such as cameras and no cash policies will also work at your office and yard locations. I would also suggest requiring a valid identification before offering a ride to a customer and calling in that information to dispatch so they know who is with you.

Your employees may also be subject to domestic violence in the workplace. This is usually a result of a relationship gone bad where a non-employee comes to your workplace to assault their target. This could also be triggered by an inter-office relationship turning sour.

The main components of any effective safety and health program can be applied to the prevention of workplace violence. These include:

• Management commitment and employee involvement.
• Risk evaluation.
• Hazard control.
• Employee training.
• Record keeping system.
• Program evaluation.

Post-incident response is critical. The safety of your workers and any visitors on site is the priority. Steps should be taken to immediately provide for protection and security of everyone, obtain medical care (if necessary), report the incident to the appropriate authorities and preserve evidence for investigation.

Post-incident debriefings and counseling may be called for. There is nothing wrong with seeking counseling; it is a perfectly normal response to a traumatic event. Keeping things bottled up inside or pretending you were not affected is this worst way to respond to a traumatic event.

A well-thought out workplace violence prevention plan will have easy to execute procedures for safety and security, preestablished contacts with crisis councilors and other specialists, a list of emergency contacts and a chain of command priority structured list.

The plan should be reviewed and revised as needed and at least annually. Employees need to be trained how to recognize and respond to these events. They should be encouraged to report any unusual or otherwise suspicious behaviors immediately.

As an employer you have a duty to provide a safe workplace and should take these reports seriously, investigate and take appropriate action.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at brian.riker@fleetcompliancesolutions.net
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