As in other parts of corporate security, intelligence trends are shaped by risk trends, and with organizations playing catch-up on cybersecurity, this has meant that intelligence analysis focusing on cyber threats has proliferated most rapidly in recent years as a new area of emphasis. Another security concern – workplace violence – not yet seen the same kind of intelligence evolution, and it is about time that it does. Security leaders should consider investing in analysts dedicated to workplace violence prevention and threat assessment for three major reasons: the issue is becoming a greater concern, the subject matter is becoming more complicated, and small programs are becoming bigger.
The Problem is Worsening
Workplace violence is one of the most pressing topics for employers today, and the raw, grim numbers suggest that devoting analysts to workplace violence prevention may be just as important as having them focus on political instability, terrorism, natural disasters or travel risk broadly. In 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 458 workplace homicides, of which more than 75 percent were shootings; every year since 2013 has seen an increase in the number of such deaths. Suicides, meanwhile, are also at historically high levels. 2016 saw 291 workplace suicides in the U.S., the highest number since 1992. For context, consider that there was a total of 86 fatalities from terrorism in the U.S. in 2017 (with the Las Vegas shooting contributing to 59 of those deaths).
Numerous examples highlight the severity of the problem internationally too, even in countries with strict firearms ownership regulations. A 2018 workplace violence survey in the U.K. found evidence for 269,000 assaults the previous year, while a 2017 study in Australia discovered that 22 percent of workers were threatened or assaulted by patients or clients. The global prevalence of issues such as sexual harassment, stalking and intimate partner violence is also worrying, and some workplace violence risks are just emerging. Consider, for instance, the threat posed by the so-called “incels” or involuntary celibates, who have been responsible for various workplace attacks in the last few years.
The Discipline is Formalizing
Another reason to add analysts to workplace violence prevention programs is that the discipline is becoming both more sophisticated and nuanced, requiring the need for multiple individuals who hold a specialized subject-matter expertise. The work done by organizations such as the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP) – composed of multi-disciplinary researchers who seek to prevent targeted and mass violence – has been part of the shift. ATAP’s efforts are leading the industry beyond the stock workplace violence video and into formalized and systematic assessment of risk factors and individuals’ behavior. Alongside this transformation, workplaces are increasingly adopting violence risk assessment tools such as the WAVR-21 and working with psychologists on complex cases. At a very basic level, organizations are finally acknowledging all the categories of workplace violence identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health – i.e. criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker and personal relationship.
Security teams have been adapting to these developments by creating positions for heads of threat assessment and by training existing investigators. Unfortunately, these individuals usually have time to triage only the most serious threats (often affecting the C-suite), while lower-level incidents or communications are given short shrift. Moreover, they may not have the open-source intelligence (OSINT) skills to even uncover many of the risk factors that are becoming so critical to evaluation. Intelligence analysts can serve as a front-line of defense in such areas, providing monitoring, case management, as well as initial investigation and analysis of workplace violence threats that may otherwise fall through the cracks.
The Programs are Expanding
Workplace violence and threat assessment programs are also expanding in scope and size, providing yet another opportunity for analysts to step in. To take one example, it is now a best practice to create threat assessment teams composed of multiple stakeholders outside of security, including Legal, HR, IT and other potential units. These teams allow for information-sharing and joint threat evaluation, but they are often missing consistent and daily program coordination, an area that could be taken over by an analyst. Programs that started off in the U.S. are also expanding internationally, and intelligence analysts could be used to track legal changes, cultural patterns and other developments that could impact nascent global programs.
Intelligence Analysts and the Modern Workplace Violence Prevention Program
Taking both recent incidents and trends into consideration, it is no wonder that workplace violence prevention and response fell into second place (just behind cyber) on a 2016 survey by Securitas, which looked at the top security threats as perceived by Fortune 1000 security leaders. Institutions have largely stepped up to the challenge by creating or revamping complex workplace violence prevention programs. With these programs come new requirements on data collection, analysis and distribution that did not previously exist. Intelligence analysts can fill this gap in the same way that they have done for other risks within the corporate security and risk management world.