5 Tips to Enhance Workplace Security

5 Tips to Enhance Workplace Security
May 23, 2019

In March 2018, a gunman furious at being booted from a program for veterans with PTSD walked onto the sprawling, outdoor campus of Veterans Home of California, one of the largest veterans’ facilities in the country. During a going-away party for two employees, he took a psychologist and two executives hostage and eventually murdered them.

Most of us spend at least half of our lives at work — we’d like to imagine that work is as safe as our homes. However, nearly 2 million people each year report being victims of workplace violence, according to Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) statistics. In 2016, there were 500 workplace homicides, about 10 percent of all fatal workplace deaths that year.

A spate of recent incidents have raised concerns about the security risks of open, outdoor corporate campuses preferred by many large enterprises.

Effective security becomes magnitudes more challenging in workplaces designed as outdoor campuses: In April 2018, a gunman opened fire, injuring three employees at YouTube’s headquarters, a campus famously open to the surrounding community. Dozens of similar attacks have occurred since 2000, according to the FBI.

Tech companies aren’t the only entities with large outdoor campuses. Hospitals, for example, are a swirl of professionals, visitors and patients, with many parking lot structures, entrances/access points and elevators. Sadly, workplace violence is the third leading cause of death for healthcare workers, leading some states like California to require workplace violence plans of all hospitals.

Whether it’s a hospital or tech campus, office visitors are a fact of daily life. Before the YouTube shooting, for example, locals, visitors and employees freely wandered the campus and security staff mostly stayed at desks in the buildings. The shooter in the 2018 YouTube incident didn’t even enter an office building. She penetrated an outdoor courtyard from an employee parking garage and opened fire on people eating lunch before killing herself.

How then do you balance the desire for a breezy, welcoming workplace with the very real need for security? It’s possible with a 5 basic steps:

1. Do a deliberate assessment of your workplace.

  • Are there multiple entrances and exits?
  • Does your company have a large campus with outdoor spaces?
  • Do employees wear identification badges?
  • Is your parking lot attended? Is employee security training available and encouraged?

This checklist, originally published by UC Berkeley, is a good place to start. You can find exhaustive OSHA risk assessments, geared to various types of workplaces, here.

2. Make sure that you have adequate security.

A front desk for visitors to check-in, security guards, cameras, sensors — sometimes, just the presence of these measures can deter someone who may be veering towards a violent act.

If your company features an outdoor campus, it has become increasingly possible to create a perimeter of sensors. The cost and time required to run power and communications across a large area has been a barrier to this approach in the past. But now, it’s possible to run cameras and other types of sensors completely off the electrical grid, with lightweight solar panels and wireless communications. These outdoor sensor systems can run edge computing to analyze data in real-time and alert security staff if there’s a problem.

3. Know the warning signs, and train employees to recognize them.

If someone is abusing drugs or alcohol, or saying paranoid things, or acting angry or withdrawn, it may make sense to reach out and see what’s bothering them before it potentially morphs into something serious. Likewise, if a customer is hitting things or throwing things around, your employees should know how to handle the situation.

Conflict is less likely to veer into violence if employees have tools for handling difficult situations. If the worst does happen, employees need to know what to do. Have a written plan. Provide regular training sessions about bullying and violence prevention. OSHA lists training resources here.

4. Create, and enforce, a no-tolerance policy for violence.

Research suggests that a significant percentage of workplace violence isn’t reported, though additional studies are needed. Create a company culture that encourages employees to take reports seriously and to act on them, if they’re credible. Make it clear that people should not have to enter any place where they feel unsafe.

5. Get ahead of the curve.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley is beginning to put a more urgent emphasis on security: Tourists who want to visit Facebook and Google headquarters now have to content themselves with taking selfies in front of the logos in front of those offices. Since the April 2018 shooting, YouTube has upgraded its security, adding a smart fence, more surveillance and security checkpoints.

At the Yountville Veteran’s Home, the treatment center has been closed since the shooting incident. The home has contracted with California Highway Patrol to provide better security for the campus, and sister VA facilities in the region are increasingly turning to smart sensor systems to act as force multipliers in outdoor areas of campus.

You can find more in-depth information in these OSHA Guidelines. They were written specifically for those working in healthcare, but most of the information makes sense in any workplace.



  1. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/10/us/california-veterans-home-shooting/index.html
  2. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/
  3. https://abcnews.go.com/US/youtube-shooting-spotlights-danger-open-work-spaces-expert/story?id=54229197
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/03/us/youtube-hq-shooting/index.html
  5. https://www.fbi.gov/file-repository/active-shooter-incidents-2000-2017.pdf/view
  6. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3826.pdf
  7. http://www.paec.org/aboutpaec/departments/risk/safetymanual/10._Emergency_Planning/Workplace_Violence_Worksheet.pdf
  8. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/recognition.html
  9. https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/workplace-violence
  10. https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/workplaceviolence/otherresources.html
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5006066/
  12. https://www.thedailybeast.com/visiting-facebook-google-and-apple-inside-the-absurd-new-rush-of-silicon-valley-tourism
  13. https://www.businessinsider.com/youtube-spoke-to-san-bruno-officials-about-improving-security-at-hq-2018-8
  14. https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/a-year-after-the-veterans-home-shooting-questions-remain-over/article_188eb741-c811-5197-a087-4b50fe7af5d9.html
  15. https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/risk-management/Documents/osha3148.pdf



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