Too often we find ourselves desperately responding to violent events in the workplace instead of taking a more proactive approach to stop them from happening in the first place.  How often have we heard statements like “I knew something was not right with him,” or “something just didn’t seem right at the office” just before a hostile situation erupted.

One Back Zebra (OBZ) — a workplace preparedness seminar provider and physical infrastructure threat assessor based in Portland, Oregon, believes now is the time to talk about emergencies that can occur anywhere.  If you see something that is not right, OBZ believes that proper emergency protocols are needed so that we can all “observe and notify” when something seems off. This can be a car that is parked in the wrong place, a vendor or customer who is acting erratically, or even a co-worker whose “behavioral baseline” has shifted.  Perhaps they are quieter than usual, or they seem preoccupied, or the subject matter of their conversations has shifted to topics much darker.

We can’t predict human behavior, and there is no one size fits all “profile” of someone who poses a dangerous threat.  However, studies suggest that incidents of violence are usually preceded by patterns of behavior that may serve as warning signs.  While there are no fail-safe measures to prevent workplace violence, early action and intervention can serve to defuse potentially dangerous situations and minimize the occurrence of violence.  Let’s talk about the case of Grumpy Gary, a co-worker who is always grumpy. Grumpiness is obviously part of Gary’s baseline so it’s pretty normal.  Gary is not about to do something bad just because he is grumpy.  A shifting baseline, however implies a dramatic change in patterns of behavior.  Let’s say that Gary had problems in his personal life that is affecting his work. You see that he is late more than usual and that he has a strong odor after lunch.  You then hear him berating and threatening a co-worker.  Gary’s behavior baseline has shifted and it may be time for HR to be aware of the changes.

The first two letters of the word One Back stand for “Observe and Notify”.  If we observe and notify (in the same way the zebras do when they detect a threat), adverse events in the workplace can be detected, preempted and mitigated. The other letters of the One Back acronym are about emergency response.  Look for another Littler article in an upcoming issue.  

If you feel your organization is lacking in the area of workplace preparedness education and protocols, email today.  HR Answers has in invited back One Back Zebra to host a workshop for our clients.  It will be held on December 4th at 8:30am.  Look for additional information and an announcement in your email and at the HRA website.

The content of this article is provided by Rick Montgomery One Back Zebra., and can be reached at 503 866 9525.