The idea of a dangerous situation – one putting your employees at risk – is incredibly scary. But your company’s human resources professionals would be wise to prepare for such threats, whether a natural disaster or someone with a gun, in order to best protect employee safety.


“It may seem that these situations are too unpredictable to head off,” writes Damaune Journey for the Society for Human Resource Management. “Yet HR’s traditional role of supporting a safe and welcoming work environment makes the function a natural extension of your organization’s efforts to prevent workplace threats.”


A clear majority of employees – 94 percent – feel their offices are safe places to work, according to a CareerBuilder and Harris Poll study. But the survey found 30 percent of employees don’t believe their workplace is protected well enough, should another person decide to inflict harm, Roy Maurer writes for another Society of Human Resource Management paper.


“Nearly a quarter of respondents (23 percent) said they would not know what to do to protect themselves if there was an emergency in their office that posed a physical threat,” Maurer writes. Findings from an FBI study released earlier this year found 80 percent of active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013 happened in a workplace, Maurer writes. And, the FBI found the rate of such shootings increased starting in 2007.


While it’s impossible to predict such an incident, Maurer writes that employers, especially human resources professionals, should plan for such an emergency. “Employers (should) conduct comprehensive safety and security audits, practice active shooter emergency drills, implement workplace violence emergency protocols, and train employees on how to respond to incidents of violence and how to identify risk factors which may lead to violence,” he writes.


The idea of early detection is one important key, Journey writes. “HR professionals specialize in evaluating people and situations carefully and in reading between the lines,” he writes. “That same expertise and intuition can be leveraged to identify potentially negative situations before they progress to violence.”


HR professionals could also employ conflict resolution techniques and planning for situations that might require immediate action, such as calling security or law enforcement. They might also consider sharing such plans and training with managers and other employees to prepare for potentially dangerous situations. HR departments should also work to support a company climate in which employees feel comfortable voicing their concerns, Journey writes.


And while thinking about such possibilities can be a serious undertaking, it’s wise to empower your HR staff members to help, Journey writes. “Because HR professionals possess certain skills, as well as knowledge of employee behavior, the company’s unique culture and current environment, and conflict identification and resolution techniques,” he writes, “they can play an invaluable role in recognizing and ameliorating violent scenarios before they occur.”