Walmart puts emphasis on workplace violence prevention, experts say companies should do more

by Kim Souza ([email protected]) 1,802 views 

Workplace homicides, while not that common, often garner major media attention. Such was the case when 54-year-old Walmart employee Mohammad Moghaddam took his manager and another store worker hostage in an Amarillo store on Tuesday. Two hours later Moghaddam was shot by local police and no one else in the store was injured or killed.

Authorities classified the incident as work-related violence because Moghaddam reportedly was angry about not being promoted. Moghaddam immigrated to Texas from Iran eights years ago with his family. Walmart corporate spokeswoman Deisha Barnett said the company acted immediately on the situation, and has a comprehensive plan for events that involve guns, bomb threats, fires and severe weather.

Steve Albrecht, a workplace violence expert, said Walmart’s preparedness and the quick response from law enforcement were likely responsible for no other injuries in what could have been a mass shooting just a few days after the Orlando tragedy.

“This day and age, having a response plan for emergencies is an important part of any business security planning. This is the case for Walmart wherever we operate. From natural disasters to dealing with unfortunate criminal activity, Walmart has experts, tools and resources in place to help ensure our customers’ and associates’ safety. Our approach includes training, monitoring and planning designed to prepare our stores to respond in emergencies. This is a priority at the highest levels of our company,” Barnett told Talk Business & Politics.

She said in 2015 the retailer worked with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University to develop an active shooter awareness effort which included the production of a training video that covers a plan of action designed to empower and instill confidence in people of all ages and abilities and help them understand what to do in an active shooter event.

The ALERRT video is available to all associates and awareness materials are posted in store break rooms,” Barnett said.

Albrecht said another thing Walmart could do to enhance training efforts is to foster a culture where everyone in their stores feel comfortable sharing tips about potential threats. He said the schools are leading the way in this effort following the Columbine and Sandy Hook catastrophes. Albrecht said companies can set up an ethics line or 1-800 feel safe phone system where anyone call anonymously and share information they may have heard on potential threats.

A common element around most workplace shootings is that the perpetrator usually leaks information to some third party about the plan. Gaining access to this info can be a huge benefit in trying to stop the attack. Albrecht said schools who have set these tip lines report students, teachers and parents all use them in an concerted effort to keep the school safe.

Carol Fredrickson CEO of Violence Free, a global violence prevention consulting and speaking firm based in Phoenix, Ariz., said most companies can improve their preparedness. She told Talk Business & Politics that many companies don’t have enough training on how to recognize warning signs.

“We have grown up with the mindset not to tattle, or rat (out) our friends or coworkers. Many times signs are missed because those closest to the eventual assailant don’t feel comfortable sharing information about others in fear of retaliation or some pushback. Companies have to foster the culture that lets everyone know they are responsible for workplace safety,” Frederickson said.

She said a company like Walmart U.S. with 1.2 million U.S. employers has a huge job in ensuring everyone gets proper training on how to recognize warning signs of future confrontation.

There were 403 U.S. workplace homicides in 2014, and 22 of those involved intentionally shooting another person. That averages out to roughly 1 death per day in the workplace, according to the most recent records by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The 2015 report will be released in September.

Of the total workplace homicides in 2014, 27% occurred in the retail trade sector, which was more than 17% at government jobs and 15% in leisure and hospitality jobs.

Dr. Joel Dvoskin, behavior expert with the American Psychological Association, told Talk Business & Politics that companies of all sizes need to have comprehensive training against workplace violence. He said the reason why the retail trade sector is the most prevalent for workplace shootings involves convenience store robberies and other disputes over money.

“I know of no finding to indicate retail workers themselves are more apt to commit violence,” he said.

Albrecht said in a large poll he recently conducted he found only 17% of companies had workplace violence training plans. He said that leaves 83% vulnerable. He said Walmart and other large companies with their own security operations generally have comprehensive plans.

Barnett said for more than a decade, Wal Mart’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has operated 24-hours a day, 365-days a year to monitor the globe for potential issues and plan responses that minimize the impact on store operations, customers and employees.

“The EOC is led by Walmart associates with extensive training in law enforcement, meteorology and emergency response, and works to develop a comprehensive plan specific to each emergency that helps Walmart leadership make the best decisions,” she said.

“When it comes to planning, our stores have protocols established for specific events such as severe weather, robberies, bomb threats, fire, in store accidents and missing children. No emergency preparedness program is one size fits all. Our plans take into account recommendations at the store level and are executed accordingly,” she added.

Albrecht said he’s optimistic about the overall impact that preparedness programs like the one used at Walmart are having on the numbers of violent deaths in the workplace. But he’s pessimistic about the number of incidents related to terrorist ties, like the December 2015 San Bernardino attack on co-workers or the Fort Hood mass shooting in 2009. He said there is no doubt the FBI is looking into the Walmart shooter for any possible terrorism links, though local authorities continue to say it was workplace violence.