Threat assessments in the workplace

Part II: Assessing the exterior physical environment

In Part 1 of this series, we addressed the importance of putting a threat assessment team in place to ensure that workplace violence is minimized.

Today we're going to review one of the key factors in managing the risk of workplace violence: The physical environment.

Of course every workplace is different, with different facilities, structures and entrances/exits - not to mention different employees, shifts, and accessibility requirements. Considering these core areas is a good start to a more detailed assessment.

Exterior area 1: Arriving/departing the workplace

Many workplace violence incidents occur as employees are arriving at or departing from the workplace facility. Areas that should be assessed for risk include:

- Employees who generally travel alone to and from work, especially those using public transit that may require a significant walk from the transit stop to the entrance

- Arrivals and departures that may occur at times when it's dark (early morning/late night)

- Arrivals and departures at non-standard times when there are few other people around (Sundays or off hours)

- Multiple entrances and exits, particularly if they are not overlooked/monitored

- Doors and windows that are typically left unsecured/unmonitored

Exterior area 2: Parking lots/facility grounds

Facilities with large parking lots and lots present particular risks, especially if there is limited active security. Areas that should be assessed include:

- Length of the walk required from a parked car to an employees' usual entrance/exit

- Parking availability and monitoring during hours of darkness

- Control of access to parking facilities

- The organization's control over parking (i.e. are some or all employees required to park on property not controlled by the company)

- How often employees are required to work late or start early, entering or exiting the building by themselves and with few observers

- The history of vehicle theft/vandalism in the company parking lot

- Lighting throughout the parking lot

- Wooded grounds that adjoin parking lots or walkways, especially when employees are required to pass them on their way to and from entrances/exits

Exterior area 3: Building exterior and access

The location and situation of a facility can have a significant effect on threat levels. These factors should be considered:

- There should be a good understanding of the crime level in the facility neighbourhood: An urban/downtown location may be vulnerable to different types of crime (drugs, theft) than a suburban or rural location (typically more vulnerable to vandalism)

- Exterior lighting, both on the building and in the pathways used to reach it (including public areas such as roads and sidewalks)

- Areas where a perpetrator could be concealed (stairwells to parking areas, vegetation/shrubbery, large sculptures or signage structures, etc.)

- Walkways connecting buildings with each other or with parking facilities

- Signage and maintenance (a building that looks semi-abandoned or run-down is more likely to become a target than a facility that looks occupied and well cared-for)

Exterior area 4: Access control

Before a perpetrator can undertake an act of violence in the workplace, they need to be able to access that workplace. So preventing unauthorized access is the first step to protecting employees. This includes:

- Limiting the number of entrances/exits that are available

- Limiting the number of entrances/exits available without specific keys/keycards/codes

- Ensuring that any entrances/exits available to the general public are monitored

- Establishing clear guidelines for access, especially for non-employees

- Ensuring processes are in place that allow unauthorized access to be immediately flagged and addressed

As always, preparation is the best defense

It's important to note that taking the time to think about these things doesn't mean you have to turn your workplace into a fortress or instill a sense of fear into your employees. On the contrary: Putting some safeguards in place for the physical facility will allow everyone to get on with their jobs - confident that they won't be taken by surprise.