July 2017
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TD Magazine

Safety First

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Train employees to respond to workplace violence.

In 2015, 417 workplace homicides occurred in the United States, and 354 were intentional shootings. Those data, sourced from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, paint a chilling truth: Physical aggression is a real threat in the workplace.

That's why many organizations train employees on what they should do if the unimaginable happens. According to the HR Policy Association's 2017 report Workplace 2020: Making the Workplace Work, 28 percent of that organization's members offer safety training programs in collaboration with law enforcement, 23 percent offer it through outside consulting firms, and 48 percent develop programs in-house.

For those who design safety training programs, one useful exercise to incorporate might be "Reaction" from the book Safety Training that Transfers by Steven Cohen and Ellis Ritz. The activity enables a trainer to identify people's initial response to a critical situation, point out the correct and incorrect reactions, and tailor the remainder of the program around improving those reactions.


To prepare, find some pictures that represent scenarios that could realistically occur in your workplace and give one to each participant. Start the activity by asking a participant to react to her hazard image according to how she would respond if the occurrence happened at work. For example, someone with a picture of a physical aggressor might say she would hide behind a locked door.

Upon completing the scenario, ask the group to critique the participant's actions and address any changes she should make. Continue until everyone has had a chance to participate. To debrief your audience, ask these questions:

  • What were your reactions?
  • Were there images you had a hard time coming up with a solution for?
  • What allows us to react positively or negatively when facing a situation in the field?
  • Is it better to react right away or step back and think about our actions?
About the Author

Alex Moore is a research analyst for the Association for Talent Development. Alex returned to ATD in 2019 after spending a year living and working in Chile. Prior to moving abroad, Alex was a writer/editor for ATD working on TD magazine, a research coordinator at ATD, and a customer care advocate at ATD. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2015 with a B.A. in English.

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