You know gun violence has taken a turn for the absolute worse when even helpless, innocent children are now fair game to the criminally inclined and the psychologically twisted. Who could forget the horrific shootings last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six school workers were killed?
This kind of violence, that is putting people’s lives at risk, is not just occurring on the streets of a bad neighbourhood. It is hitting us closer to home — in our schools, at child care centres and in our workplaces. One of the two men killed in the Gatineau incident was a 38-year-old daycare worker. According to news reports, the gunman also attempted to harm the daycare director. Fortunately, she survived.
Viewing the workplace as a target of a violent perpetrator may not seem as farfetched today as it was 10 or 20 years ago. Recent history has taught us the workplace is an evolving entity with constantly changing dynamics. Today the danger workers face does not only come from the physical hazards that form part of the workplace and their jobs. It could, quite possibly, come from the most unexpected parties — a violent spouse, a bitter ex-employee or a mentally unstable co-worker.
Legislation, regulation and standards introduced in recent years are reflective of this changing workplace dynamic. They are indicative of the increasing need for employers to pay particular attention to the not-so-apparent workplace hazards. Workplace violence, harassment, bullying, mental health issues, natural disasters, pandemic threats — even terrorism — are all, unfortunately, realities that workplaces may find themselves facing.
Any proactive organization’s workplace health and safety policies and emergency plans should reflect a recognition of these potential hazards, and be able to communicate them to the workers. The hope is to never have to execute these plans, but there should be comfort in knowing that if the worst does happen, the company is ready to deal with it — or, at least, has a plan to deal with the situation.
Being prepared for the unexpected is always better than not being prepared at all.
Mari-Len De Guzman is the former editor of Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and www.cos-mag.com.