As I type this, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, shaking, trying to calm down after what I thought for sure was an attempted break-in at my home.

It all started after I’d put my 7-year-old to bed and decided to open the windows for some fresh air while I worked on a story. Not too far away, there was some kind of alarm going off, but I didn’t think too much of it. (I used to cover cops and courts in the area, so I know the vast majority of home alarms in this suburban residential neighborhood are false alarms).

But, a few minutes later, I heard a series of loud pops that sounded to me, a former Army medic, like they could have been gunfire. At that point, I retrieved my .380 from my room, racked it, holstered it, and made my way to the kitchen to fix a cup of coffee before sitting down to finish some evening work.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone moving in the shadows near the front door. In a flash, I had the pistol out of the holster and in my hands.

Of course, I realize now that the pops were unexpected fireworks, and I soon deduced that the person at my door at 10 p.m. was only my neighbor dropping off some cucumbers and zucchini from her garden, but the sequence of events unfolded in such a way that I truly thought someone — who was possibly armed and dangerous — was trying to enter my home.

But, I was prepared. I’d taken classes and gone to the range, and I was ready to defend myself and my son. Luckily, I didn’t have to, but will I always be that lucky?

We’ve done many stories here at The NEWS about safety in the workplace, since the HVACR industry certainly has its fair share of occupational hazards. But it seems violence in the workplace — and how workers can protect themselves — is discussed less often. In fact, workplace violence training is provided to less than half the nation’s workforce, even though 1.7 million people are victims of violent crime while working or on duty in the U.S. every year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Recently, I interviewed Shane St. Pierre, a heating and air mechanic for ARS/Rescue Rooter who made headlines in late July for helping to subdue a man who was assaulting a Raleigh police officer. St. Pierre, who had been working at the apartment complex where the incident occurred, joined the fight after he noticed the officer was being overcome.

“I’m just really glad nobody was seriously hurt,” he said after the fact.

St. Pierre, of course, was not expecting to run into trouble at work that day, but he is one of many who suddenly find themselves in the middle of a violent or potentially violent situation each year.

To help keep their employees safe, an increasing number of HVAC business owners are addressing workplace violence and providing training, especially on how to handle angry or violent customers.

But in order to help workers protect themselves, the training needs to be universal, and it should be ongoing. Just like I routinely head to the range to practice my self-defense skills, HVACR employees also need to keep their skills up when it comes to preventing, diffusing, or escaping violent situations. In the end, it could mean a life saved.

Publication date: 9/16/2013 

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