Amongst all of the debate surrounding Federal Gun Control in the U.S., it is crucial to recognize the risks posed to the workforce, and how those risks can be minimized and mitigated. While national consensus may be hard to derive, the issue of firearms in the workplace cannot be ignored.

The Issue and the Debate:

Are handguns a risk, or a right? Do they pose a threat, or offer protection? Or both? Or neither? It is well-known that the U.S. has both high rates of gun ownership and high rates of homicide as compared to its global counterparts. By definition, firearms include handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Handguns are relatively convenient to carry and operate and have been a topic of interest after recent school shootings. Crime, society, and perspectives aside, it is crucial that companies take appropriate steps to ensure safety against guns in the workplace.

Absent federal laws or standards to regulate weapons in the workplace, companies must devise their own policies and procedures for minimizing related workplace risks. The conversation on gun control is central to workplace safety. From a business perspective, weapons activity manifests in four different categories:

  1. Weapons are used by any individual (employee or client) who brings the weapon to the business with the intent to commit a crime.
  2. A weapon can be legally brought to the business by the customer, client, or visitor.
  3. An employee carries a weapon to work for non-job-related purposes (such as safety), and it can be carried on the employee, or stored in their vehicle, etc.
  4. An employee brings weapons in the workplace for work-related functions.

These classifications of weapons in the workplace should be kept in mind while reviewing the ensuing information. When considering gun-related workplace violence in its various forms, not all studies find the same relationships between policies and violence, nor do they find clarity on the effects of gun-control legislation on violence. Furthermore, with no explicit federal action on the issue, there is little uniformity across state laws; companies are responsible for ensuring workplace safety. In effect, most methods of addressing the problem of guns in the workplace are a subset of overall policies to ensure workplace safety. However, the following details the responsibility of businesses to take specific and effective action.

Understanding OSHA’s General Duty Clause

When it comes to workplace violence, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970) provides employees with overarching standards. Specifically, the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards.” Specifically:

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)1: Each employer shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(a)2: Each employer shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this act.

29 U.S.C. § 654, 5(b): Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.

These General Duty provisions are intended to serve as standards in inspections when no other standards apply to the hazard at issue, as in the case of guns in the workplace.

Applying this OSHA clause depends on whether violence is a recognized hazard. Hazardous conditions are defined as situations or conditions that cause, or are likely to cause, death or serious physical injury to employees. These hazards, though, can be assuaged or permitted. Therefore, gun violence in the workplace falls under these classifications.

When a hazard is present, but not covered under a standard, the General Duty Clause is the umbrella standard that requires employers to protect their workforce from the hazard. Ultimately, employers are legally obligated to provide a safe, non-hazardous workplace; OSHA can pursue citations if a hazard is recognizable but not actively mitigated against.

What Measures Can a Company Take to Avoid the Risk that Exists, Absent Federal Gun Control Laws?

Given the absence of gun control laws, it is crucial that companies recognize their duties under the OSHA General Duty Clause, and pursue practices to achieve their responsibilities. In order to be compliant with OSHA’s General Duty Clause and avoid potentially violent situations, companies should provide quality safety training.

First, a company must recognize potentially violent situations, including hiring dangerous employees along with industry-inherent risks. To begin, industry analysis reveals which of the four aforementioned types of weapons’ presence in the workplace are possible. In addition, the employer should consider the employees that the company is hiring to determine which workforce risks are possible.

After identifying risk factors and appropriate precautions, a company must enact the appropriate safety training. Based on which of the four categories of weapon activity are possible, businesses should define the associated threats. For example, some jobs require that employees be equipped with weapons. In this case, safety concerns are inherent to the job, and safety training is maximally important. In other cases, there are high risks of external crime posing harm to the business; worst-case scenario and risk protocols should be developed and practiced.

In providing safety training, employers must devise detailed industry, company, and employee-specific practices. Best practices include developing workplace violence prevention policies, designing and implementing risk assessment and threat management procedures and protocols, employing a security staff where necessary, and committing to screening and training practices before making hiring decisions.

Ultimately, training employees to prevent and respond to workplace violence will empower the workforce to recognize and prevent potential threats, while effective background screening will help to eliminate potential threats.

After Training, which Steps Should be taken to Maintain System Efficacy?

In addition to securing the precautions detailed above, maintenance of the violence-prevention protocols is crucial. An efficient prevention requires that the system allows for functionally dynamic communication, aimed at maintaining workplace safety from the bottom-up. Creating a communication channel to report suspicious behavior will deter potentially violent behavior from emerging, attach a negative stigma to workplace violence, and allow employees the feel that the employer is giving their upmost effort to protect their workforce as they strive to maintain company quality and safety. Whistle-blower and zero-tolerance standards and frameworks for execution are crucial to promoting a sentiment of workplace trust and safety by assuring employees that their best interests are secure.

Conducting Criminal Background Checks During the Hiring Process

In order to prevent hires that pose a threat to your workforce, whether physical or psychological, criminal background checks are an irreplaceable component of the hiring process. Criminal background checks will reveal whether an employee poses a threat to your business, before you make the mistake of hiring them.

Criminal background checks allow for informed hiring decisions. Conventional interview processes do not give insight into criminality or the risk that an individual poses to your company and its workforce. In effect, criminal background checks allow employers to proactively prevent incorporating threats into the workforce.

Mitigating this internal risk is the first step to a safe workforce, since dangerous employees can be detrimental to the entire company, for they have a magnified potential to harm the workforce.  Due diligence in the background screening (whether potential employee, or client, where necessary) prevents negligent hiring decisions and promotes workplace safety.

To learn more about effective background screening services to minimize risk in the workplace, contact eVerifile today.