Feb 07, 2023

Social Services Workplace Safety: Active Assailant Scenarios

Category: Social Services

Is your organization prepared for an active assailant scenario? Organizations in the social services sector are working to make the world a better place by providing critical services to vulnerable populations. Unfortunately, in the course of providing these services, workers may encounter dangerous situations, including active shooters. Good risk management practices can improve workplace safety while reducing liability.

Active Shooter Statistics

The number of active shooter incidents has risen dramatically in recent years. The FBI says there was an increase of 33% between 2019 and 2020 and of 52.5% between 2020 and 2021. Between 2017 and 2021, there was a 96.8% increase. In 2021 alone, 61 distinct active shooter incidents occurred in the U.S. These shootings were responsible for 103 deaths and 140 injuries.

The shootings occurred in a wide range of settings – from government buildings to private residences. Just over half the shootings occurred in commerce locations and 19 in open spaces. Additionally, some shootings occurred in places that provide social services, including two in educational settings, one in a house of worship, and one in a healthcare facility.

Employees were frequent victims and occasional perpetrators. The shooter was an employee in one incident, a former employee in two, and an employee of a third-party vendor in one more. In shootings that occurred in business environments open to pedestrian traffic, 17 employees were killed.

Social Service Workers May Be Especially Vulnerable

Social service workers go where they’re needed most. This can include shelters, mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse centers, where the individuals receiving help may have psychological, emotional, or economic challenges and may be unstable. Unfortunately, active shooter incidents over the years have shown that places like religious organizations and schools are also vulnerable to acts of violence.

Liability for Active Shooter Events

After an active shooter incident, organizations may face business disruption, workers’ compensation claims, property damage, and other costs. According to an article published by the American Bar Association, organizations may also face litigation. Historically, shootings have been considered unforeseeable, which has helped to shield organizations from third-party liability. However, as shootings become more frequent, one could argue they are also more foreseeable. As a result, organizations could be sued.

In particular, organizations may take on liability if they ignore warning signs. According to Reuters, an employee is suing Walmart for $50 million in connection to a shooting, claiming the retailer failed to protect its workers from the shooter, who was also an employee. The lawsuit alleges that other employees had warned Walmart management about the shooter’s “bizarre and threatening” behavior. A social services organization could find itself in a similar situation if a shooting were to occur after the organization ignored warning signs.

Best Practice for Reducing Active Assailant Risk

Active shooter incidents have become too common for the social service sector to ignore. Organizations can implement best practices to reduce the chance of an incident, minimize the negative impact of an incident, and reduce liability exposures.

  • Screen employees and respond appropriately to complaints. Background checks may help you avoid hiring workers who pose a risk, but it’s also important to monitor workers and track complaints.
  • Train workers on how to respond to an active assailant situation. The FBI’s run, hide, fight strategy is designed to keep individuals safe. Employees also need to know where emergency exits and first aid kits are. DHS has more information on how to respond.
  • Make safety a priority. Your organization may need to hire security guards, install security alarms and cameras, and take other appropriate steps to create a safe environment.
  • Take extra precautions as needed. If a client or former employee has made threats, your organization may need additional security. After employees with access codes leave the company, change the codes.
  • Secure insurance coverage. Your standard general liability insurance policy may not provide adequate coverage against active assailant exposures, but coverage for this risk is available.

As active assailant risks continue to threaten workplace safety, insurance and risk management strategies are increasingly critical. Tangram’s social services program provides workers’ compensation and workplace safety coverages designed with the social services sector in mind. Access 24/7 claims reporting, nurse triage services, employee training resources, and risk management resources. Learn more.