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Safety first (and second and third) has always been the tune in the construction industry. 

However, the recent rise in the number of violent events, some involving disgruntled employees, demonstrates that violence in the workplace is an increasingly problematic issue that employers must learn to effectively minimize and prevent. This is especially important in the construction industry, where there is interaction with the public, open jobsites, high turnover and the added responsibility of working with dangerous products and equipment. 

It is imperative that employers recognize and understand the need to take constant and active steps to address both internal and external potential threats of workplace violence, and know that they cannot afford to take the “wait and see” approach to onsite safety.

While predicting everyone who may present a risk of workplace violence is not possible, it is possible to anticipate and head off some incidents. Consider adopting some of the following measures to protect employees from internal and external threats of violence.

Response to OnSite Threats of Violence

Because construction jobsites are open to all different types of employees, subcontractors, etc., monitoring external threats can be more difficult. Still, employers need to stay diligent in preparing and updating their Emergency Action Plans or Onsite Active Emergency Plans. Having plans in place can help to anticipate and head off some incidents. 

At a minimum, employees should be trained on the Emergency Action Plans and know the:

  • means of reporting emergencies or an active shooter;
  • evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments;
  • person who is responsible for calling the police;
  • onsite security operations (if there are any); and
  • person or persons who account for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed.

If practical, the investment in security cameras and/or monitoring can also play a major deterrent in internal and external acts of violence. The can also provide an immediate review of the situation at the jobsite if needed. While there are no guaranteed signs that an employee or visitor is going to engage in violent acts, there are signs of unacceptable behavior that the workforce can be trained to identify and address. 

Develop specific training based on work setting, location and security layout, as well as training to ensure employees have general situational awareness. Consider professional instruction by an active shooter expert who can provide onsite, simulation-based training.

Policy Reviews and Preventing Internal Threats of Violence

In addition to responding to incidents, employers can also work to prevent issues internally. The majority of workplace violence events include current employees who have developed an issue with a supervisor or coworker. Internal threats of workplace violence require separate considerations from external threats. Analyzing complaints and preventing issues requires a focus on policies, hiring, monitoring and effective training. 

Pre-Hire Background Screenings

During the hiring process, the use of effective screening can help avoid individuals with red-flag behavior. Some steps that construction employers can take include: 

  • Background checks. Companies are allowed to conduct background checks, including criminal, for applicants. Note, however, that state and local laws often govern the use of background checks by employers, so consult with legal counsel on best practices for implementing this screening tool.
  • Social media. Despite valid privacy concerns, there are currently no federal laws that prevent employers from reviewing the public social postings of prospective employees. An individual’s social media postings can reveal whether warning signs like fascination with violence, for instance, are present.

Again, consult with legal counsel on best practices for implementing this screening tool.

Policies on Bullying and Unprofessional Behavior 

Construction sites and offices can be high-stress environments. Employers should have policies and training in place to look for signs of aggression or bullying and outright ban such trigger behaviors. In training employees on how to identify and report inappropriate behavior, the team should also have an effective procedure for handling employees that have been reported, and demonstrate that:

  • management takes all threats seriously;
  • when the reports are of internal conflicts, harassment or bullying, management works quickly to understand the root of the conflict and defuse it;
  • conflict resolution points are identified; and
  • management takes steps to provide appropriate discipline in order to clearly demonstrate that any such violent behavior will not be tolerated. 

Paying Attention to Outgoing Issues

Finally, having a process in place to ensure safety upon an employee’s termination is also key to maintaining a safe environment. Prior to an employee’s termination, employers should notify their security team. Hopefully a manager can avoid escalation, but security may need to escort the employee to an isolated area where they can meet with management.

Employers should also have a process in place to monitor the behavior of terminated employees from the time they are told the news until they leave the work site. Things to monitor include:

  • Did they make threats? 
  • Do they have a history of bullying or unprofessional behavior? 
  • What is the response if they do? 

If there are any threats, call the police immediately. Don’t wait for the irate employee to return. 

Workplace violence continues to occur at an alarming rate, and yet many employers have not addressed this concern in their safety training programs. No perfect plan is currently available, but begin taking proactive steps to avoid these situations and minimize the risk to the workplace.

Because several legal issues may arise with an employer’s decision to both implement effective pre-employment screening tools and construct workplace violence plans, consult with legal counsel as procedures are developed.


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