MRO Q&A: Plant Manager's Responsibility for an Employee Attack

In this timely question, a reader asks: What is a plant manager's responsibility if an employee is attacked?

Q: An incident recently occurred in a small town in Oklahoma which resulted in a horrific beheading of an employee by a disgruntled fired employee. As a Plant Manager of a food processing facility, what are my responsibilities to prevent a situation like this?

A: This is a difficult but very timely question. Let's start with some background on the incident as reported. The employee, who recently had converted to Islam and had tried to convert other plant employees, was fired from his job for reasons not made public. He then exited the facility, drove to another part of the facility and entered an office where he allegedly committed the act. He also repeatedly stabbed another employee and was shot while doing this. (See our story: Food Employee Beheads Coworker)

This issue is clearly one of plant security. Many companies skirt this topic for a myriad of reasons including: “Putting up fences goes against our culture, we trust our people”; “We are located out here in the middle of nowhere; why would we need it?”; “We make food, we don't need to be as secure as Fort Knox”; “This is a lot of expense; what could possibly happen?” All of these reasons seem quite trivial when you have to sit with the family of someone who has lost their life in a work place.

The cornerstone of our jurisprudence system is based upon “the Reasonable Man" doctrine. This basically states that, knowing what you knew at the time of the incident, could a reasonable man have been able to prevent it from occurring? Plant managers are held accountable by many government agencies for the conditions of their plant, the condition of products produced, the processes used to hire or fire along with a plethora of other activities as well.

A “reasonable man” would expect a plant manager to provide workers a safe, secure environment to work; free from harassment. This means that you must have a secure facility. At a minimum, this includes having a fenced-in area surrounding the facility; a central entrance that can be monitored electronically (with a camera) or by humans in order to centralize all incoming/outgoing human traffic; and controlled access locks for all doors that open to any unsecured area. All noncompany personnel who want to enter the facility must identify themselves, state their reason for entry, have it verified it is by invitation and have their ingress controlled while in the facility. It is difficult enough to try to predict what people will do when you know the individual, but when you don't know them or their intentions, it is impossible. Company-employed personnel should have some form of badges or card keys that allow them access to areas they are permitted to enter.

In the specific case of terminations, “a reasonable man” would think that the probability of heightened emotions would be high. Escorting fired individuals off the property by on-site security or local officers is strongly suggested, depending upon the demeanor of the employee. Regardless of the employee's demeanor, he/she should have their badge or card key retrieved, which will not allow them ingress to any controlled access point doors.

The most difficult part of protecting your employees is getting information from them about possible threats that may exist. As is the case with workplace harassment, management is obligated to act on information given to them by employees relative to harassment. Such is the case with security as well. You must develop trust with your employees before they will take it upon themselves to inform you of certain anomalies or concerns they have. The degree of restrictive action taken as a result of these “tips” varies depending upon perceived severity.

Plant security is distasteful to many, as it is perceived as Big Brother. In reality, it is! When the down side of what could happen far outweighs the minor inconvenience of protection, it is a prudent decision. The next time someone complains about plant security, tell them you are doing it not BECAUSE of them, but out of concern FOR them.

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