On display at NeoCon, the famous office furniture expo held in Chicago last month, were all the usual suspects: Green conference tables. Ergonomic chairs. Unique lighting solutions.
But one item in the lineup that stood out this year had nothing to do with LEED credits, comfortable seating or flashy design.
Meet exhibit A: The Guardian Chair, an office chair with a bullet proof vest that can be draped over the chair, worn or kneeled behind.
“Shootings are now a national problem, and it is has become important that employers do extra to protect their human capital,” Rebecca Boenigk, the chief executive of Neutral Posture, a Texas-based maker of ergonomic chairs, office accessories and vests told the Chicago Tribune in a recent article.
The chair is being marketed to everyone from teachers to office workers to security guard: Anyone at risk of being the target of a shooting. In 2010, 405 people were killed in workplace shootings, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Comparatively, 32,885 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents that same year.
The seven-pound vest can thwart a .357 Magnum slug and is just one more entry in the line of bulletproof devices being created, including bulletproof backpacks for schoolchildren and bulletproof undershirts, in the wake of mass shootings like those in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo.
So far, Boenigk said they’d sold 20 chairs to a East Coast supermarket chain and that a Las Vegas casino and leading bank had also inquired about a demonstration.
Think they might be worth the investment at your office? Here are some pros and cons:
Pros: Reassurance: Employees who have one of these vests might feel safer going to work every day knowing they have some amount of protection from armed attacks, which could improve overall morale and productivity.
Protection: In the event that a gunman does enter the office and opens fire, obviously having a bulletproof vest increases the likelihood employees will survive the attack versus those that do not have one.
Design: The Guardian Chair itself is an attractive, neutral office chair. It only comes in faux black leather, but it includes 14 active adjustments, passive weight dispersion and a generous amount of foam for comfort. The vest itself blends right in with the chair and can be removed easily with the side velcro closures.
Cons: Fear factor: Seeing employees wearing or sitting on bulletproof vests could potentially scare customers, clients and coworkers and contribute to an overall atmosphere of fear within the workplace. This could adversely affect business, causing clients to do business elsewhere and giving employees anxiety about coming to work.
Cost: Bulletproofing material is expensive. The Guardian Chair retails between $1,870 and $1,900. The costs of outfitting each employee with bulletproof materials might outweigh the benefits, given that the likelihood of an employee being killed in a mass shooting is about the same as them being struck by lightening (about 1 in 700,000 in the U.S. in any one year, according to National Geographic
Practicality: In the event a gunman enters into a workplace and starts shooting, it’s not likely employees will have the presence of mind or the time to don the vest during the attack, Paul Harvey, associate professor of management at New Hampshire University, told the Chicago Tribune. What’s more, in these types of attacks, the shooters have been using assault rifles, which these types of vests wouldn’t necessarily do much to help protect against, Karen Bartuch, founder and president of the Women’s Tactical Association told the Tribune.