Listen to Your Gut


Are you ready for a shock? According to Canadian statistics, workplace aggression and violence are commonplace.

  • According to a survey by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Canada ranked fourth in the world rankings for workplace aggression.
  • This included more than 356,000 violent workplace incidents over the course of a year, 71 per cent of which were physical assaults. According to the study, Canada has one of the highest rates of assault and sexual harassment on the job.
  • 31% of men and 47% of women in Canada reported ever experiencing some form of harassment or sexual assault in the workplace. The largest proportion of women reported ever experiencing inappropriate sexualized behaviours in a workplace setting (44%), followed by discriminatory behaviours (20%) and sexual assault (13%).

If you run a business, or you work in a business, you need to be prepared for the unexpected.

Not our industry, right?

On May 22, a disgruntled former employee walked into the laundry where he worked in Chester, PA (outside Philadelphia) and opened fire. He killed his former supervisor and another person outright and sent three others to the hospital, one in critical condition. He fled, but was apprehended at a traffic stop by police.

No motive was given for why the man decided to walk up to people he’d worked with for years, pull out a gun and shoot them. There was nothing in the reports of comments he may have made. As is usual in situations like this, everyone was surprised. And it cost two of them their lives.

If you think it’s impossible it would happen in your plant, you haven’t run a Google search on the terms “shooting” and “Canada” and “dry cleaner” or “laundry” in a while.

How do you stop it?

Though the workers at the plant in Chester didn’t expect a gunman that day, no doubt there were some signs that such an eventuality was possible. The person who had left the company (no details on whether that was under his own steam or at the invitation of the boss) probably triggered a few alarm bells. But once he was gone, everyone thought the threat was over.

Your “gut” is a vital part of your survival instincts. When we lived outside and fought for every mouthful we caught or gathered, people depended on the sensation of danger to warn then. In our more civilized lives, we’ve tried to learn to get along with everyone around us, and we try to assume the best of people. In general, that’s a great plan. But when that gut alarm goes off, don’t ignore it.

Oscar Villanueva

There are things to watch for, according to Oscar Villanueva, the COO at TAL Global, a security-consulting and risk-management firm based in Campbell, CA. He cited several signs that indicate an employee may be likely to resort to violence against co-workers or managers. They include:

  • Past or frequent history of violent behavior
  • Frequent mention of or known obsession with weapons in conjunction with other warning signs on the list
  • Changes in behavior, angry, agitated and/or confrontational
  • Behavior consistent with mental illness and/or violence
  • Talk of suicide or harming self
  • A belief that they are being persecuted
  • If your gut instinct tells you that something is not right about a person or situation

Villanueva and his company have developed a system they call Prepare-Respond-Recover (PRR) that companies or individuals can put into action to minimize the devastation of a violent incident. Villanueva emphasizes that PRR “is not incident-driven but focuses on preparedness, timely reaction, and recovery.”

The Prepare-React-Recover framework involves:

  • Preparing for the possibility that an active-shooter event might happen and having a plan should it occur.
  • Understanding how to react best if an incident is imminent or already underway.
  • Developing ways to recover and return to normal business operations after an incident.

“PRR is not incident-driven but focuses on preparedness, timely reaction and recovery,” Villanueva said.

Key components of the Prepare-React-Recover program that organizations need to consider include:


  • Understanding the risk and what to expect.
  • Assessing the preparedness of your organization, and working to improve preparedness if gaps are identified.
  • Conducting security assessments in all facilities to identify physical security deficiencies and opportunities to correct them, such as access control, escape routes, lock up and hide areas, etc.


  • Identify the hazard and/or threats: Where is the attack coming from? What direction is the attack coming from? and Who is involved in the attack?
  • Implement evacuation and/or lockdown procedures, if appropriate.
  • Notify all employees promptly.


  • Provide prompt behavioral health support to all affected in order to assist in recovery.
  • Document the incident and conduct an investigation to gather facts. Consider conducting a pre-litigation investigation.
  • Properly manage communications, both internally and externally.

(For more information on Prepare-React-Recover, visit Villanueva can be reached at

Your people count on you

Nobody gets up in the morning, gets dressed, has breakfast and goes to work expecting to be confronted with violence in their workplace. For the vast majority of people, this expectation is a solid one. However, a vigilant company owner is one who safeguards his or her people by having a plan in place to head off any contingency.

  • Do you have a code word your employees recognize that tells them to take cover?
  • Do you have evacuation drills from time to time, with a designated rallying place outside the plant?
  • Have you personally taken readily-available training (often from police officers) as to what to do in the event violence breaks out in your plant?
  • How will you help employees recover from such an incident?

If you’ve never thought through things like that before, take time to do it. Put pen to paper and make a plan. Share it with your employees. They’re depending on you as much as you depend on them.

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