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February 1, 2023

Workplace safety on the forefront

Christopher Ranch expanding active shooter training

Managers of Christopher Ranch, South County’s largest private employer, couldn’t help but notice the too-frequent mass shootings that occur almost on a weekly basis across the nation, many of which happen at a workplace.

But when a former employee shot and killed two managers and himself at the Ford Store Morgan Hill on June 25, the mass shootings hit home.

Ken Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch, said that in response to the mass shootings, especially at the Ford Store, the largest garlic producer in the nation is bolstering its safety programs for its employees.

While workplace violence training has already been mandatory for all of Christopher Ranch’s employees, senior managers have recently undergone active shooter training. That will soon extend to all 1,000 employees as well.

“We were developing the program, but we decided to accelerate the training in light of recent events,” Christopher said.

Christopher said the company has established a zero tolerance policy for workplace violence. Fortunately, he added, beyond an occasional verbal altercation between employees, the ranch has not experienced any major incidents.

“Companies of all sizes need to make sure their HR departments are continually doing research and training,” he said. “It might seem tedious, but employee safety needs to be at the forefront of every company.”

For the City of Morgan Hill, which employs more than 500 part-time and full-time staff, the police department provides periodic training on active shooter response, according to city spokesperson Maureen Tobin.

“Much like other businesses, the safety of our teammates and guests is always a primary concern,” she said. “Workplace safety is a priority for the city, and we continually look for ways to improve.”

Tobin added that the police department provides active shooter training to other businesses in Morgan Hill. Trainings can be scheduled by emailing MHPD Sgt. Scott Purvis at [email protected]

Statistics from several national organizations point to disturbing trends.

Workplace violence, defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment or other threatening behavior, accounted for 9 percent of workplace fatalities in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The National Safety Council reported the following year that 17 percent of workplace deaths were the result of violence.

OSHA also estimates that while about 2 million people per year report some type of workplace violence, 25 percent of all such incidents go unreported.

The majority of mass shootings from 2000 to 2015 occurred at businesses, according to the Office for Victims of Crime. These data show that of the 87 recorded mass shootings in the United States since 1990, 57 percent of those occurred within the past 10 years.

On June 25, an employee of the Ford Store carried out the worst workplace violence incident in Morgan Hill in recent history. Suspect Steven Leet opened fire on his two supervisors—Brian Light and Xavier Souto—after he had been fired from his job as a parts counter clerk earlier in the day. 

After shooting and killing Light and Souto, Leet went outside the store and turned the gun on himself as the first wave of police officers arrived. He was found dead on the ground when officers pulled up to the scene. 

Prepare for the worst

The Crisis Prevention Institute, an international organization that promotes the management of disruptive and assaultive behavior, provides these tips to prevent workplace violence.

• Assess your work environment: Critically examine all areas of your work environment, including parking lots, entryways, reception areas, work areas and offices. Is the lighting adequate? Are there convenient escape routes? Do you have a method to summon assistance? 

• Pay attention to warning signs: Many people who become violent communicate their intentions in advance. Threats from customers, coworkers or third parties should be reported immediately.

• Promote respect: The best way to prevent violence in the workplace is to foster a day-to-day attitude of respect and consideration in your work environment.

• Eliminate potential weapons: Take a mental inventory of objects available in your immediate work area that could be potential weapons. Remove or secure objects that could be thrown.

• Know your violence response procedures: These procedures are simple plans designed to minimize injury during a violent incident. They should include a plan to summon assistance and move people to a safe area.

• Trust your instincts: Don’t ignore your internal warning system. If you sense impending danger, react accordingly.

• Use a team approach: If you are in a situation in which hostility could occur, use the buddy system.

Erik Chalhoub
Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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