Active shooter incidents are now reported around the world, and they continue to occur around the world as the most disturbing type of a workplace violence incident. The wide availability of guns, especially semi-automatic and assault weapons, has increased both the frequency of violent incidents, as well as the number of victims killed and injured in each incident.
Other types of workplace violence also are occurring with higher frequencies, especially in high-risk industries such as healthcare, hospitals and retail establishments.
Workplace violence is defined by the European Commission as “incidents where persons are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being or health” (Wynne, Clarkin, Cox and Griffiths, 1997). This definition does not distinguish between co-workers, customers or complete strangers as the persons responsible for a violent act.
Guns are becoming easier to get, even in countries where there are extensive controls over gun purchases. Some of the most shocking active shooter events include:
- 2012 – The Newtown, Conn., U.S. school shooting which killed 20 young children, and 7 adults, including the shooter.
- 2011 – Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 in Oslo, Norway, in twin attacks: a bombing in downtown Oslo and a shooting massacre at a youth camp outside the capital.
- 2009 – Farda Gadyrov, 29, killed 12 people at the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy in the capital, Baku, armed with an automatic pistol and clips, and then killed himself.
- 2008 – Matti Saari, 22, walks into a vocational college in Kauhajoki, Finland, and opens fire, killing 10 people and burning their bodies with firebombs before shooting himself fatally in the head.
- 2003 – Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, who had been expelled from school in Erfurt, Germany, kills 13 teachers, 2 former classmates and 1 policeman, before committing suicide.
One of the keys to understanding the increase in incidents in the U.S. was that a crucial Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2005, allowing access to assault weapon purchases. In addition,
the increase in the number of active shooter incidents, is mirrored in the increase in the number of people either killed or injured in the incidents.
Between 2000 and 2005, the average number of people killed or injured was 7.5 per year, between 2006 and 2010, the number rose to an average of 16 people per incident, and in 2013, the average rose to 22 individual killed or injured per incident.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) has also reported increases in all types of workplace violence, from active shooter incidents to bullying.
Nursing organizations now routinely teach nurses to be alert to potential violent situations and how to protect themselves from assaults by patients. A recent news article in England reported that the National Health Service has reported more than 60,000 attacks a year, with blame for the increase following cutbacks in the workforce and longer waiting times.
According to the International Council of Nurses, “Nurses also suffer from societal tolerance of violence. The legal system has on several occasions refused to grant compensation to nurse victims. This was justified on the principle that to practice nursing was to accept the risk of personal violence. Nurses themselves often feel that they are ‘legitimate targets’ and that violence is ‘part of the job.’”
The United Kingdom, the United States and Australia all keep detailed statistics on workplace shooting and other workplace violence incidents, while other countries suppress information regarding details of workplace violence incidents.
For example, several hospitals in the Middle East have mentioned anecdotally that they have several incidents where doctors and nurses in the hospital were seriously beaten by the patient’s relatives when the patient died following surgery. But there are no reliable statistics on these incidents.
While there are no easy solutions for active shooter or workplace violence incidents, there are universal recommendations that are gaining traction:
- Increase awareness of employees in high-risk professions so they are more situationally alert and able to avoid violent incidents.
- Increase the penalties for workplace violence incidents and change the designation of these incidents so they are classified as more serious crimes (i.e., changing classification from a misdemeanor to a felony in the U.S.).
- Increased emphasis should be placed on denying these individuals access to weapons and increasing support for mental health services.
- Increase awareness programs for families and communities to watch for the warning signs of individuals who may show a major personality change, become paranoid, or start to neglect personal hygiene.
- Increase security controls to mitigate the threat of workplace violence and active shooter, such as panic or duress alarms, keyboard alarms, active monitoring of security cameras and improvements in facilities access controls.
About the Author: Caroline Ramsey Hamilton is a leading security threat and risk assessment expert, analyst, and President of Risk & Security LLC. She has developed many specialized risk and threat assessment programs for Information Security, HIPAA, FFIEC, GLBA, Active Shooter-Workplace Violence, Homeland Security and enterprise security programs.