By Hugh Pelmore, ARETE safety and protection inc.
This 3 part series explores the considerations and rationale of developing written procedures for workplace violence between employees and their clientele. Part 1 of the series discusses the pitfalls of some commonly used, yet at times ineffective procedures which often fall short of their goals. Part 2 focuses on the necessity of appropriate and usable procedures and why they are important to an organizations overall workplace violence prevention program. Part 3 discusses the importance of written procedures and best practices being supported by appropriate workplace violence prevention training.
As awareness of violence as an occupational health and safety issue has grown, the importance of clear and practical procedures has increased.
Written procedures are essentially a series of steps that guide the worker through a particular work process. It is important that the steps are written in such a way they:
a) Are easily understood.
b) Can be consistently followed when they are used.
c) Can be monitored and evaluated for their effectiveness.
The three examples below outline the kinds of procedures that are commonly made available to employees. Although the intentions are good, they have limitations in their effectiveness for employee safety on the frontline:
(a) ‘Safety tips’
(b) Procedural steps that require specialized training (unless workers have the training)
(c) ‘Paint by number’ procedures for client interactions
a. Safety tip: “Focus on the emotions first, try to remain calm, and try to calm the other person.”
The above suggestion is found in WCB’s Take Care Guide, and is in reference to dealing with irate customers. They are good points, but not very tangible steps to ‘require’ employees to follow.
b. Procedural steps requiring specialized training: “Attempt verbal de-escalation skills to deal with the irate person. If not effective, use safe disengagement strategies.”
The above written procedure can be effective, provided that workers have training in verbal de-escalation skills and safe disengagement strategies. If staff does not have this training, then these steps will not be very meaningful or useful to them.
The less clear procedures are, the more difficult it is for workers to follow them, and the more difficult it becomes to supervise and monitor their effectiveness.
c. “Paint by number” procedures for client interactions:
When a client exhibits escalating behaviours, staff must set gentle but firm limits. “If you calm down the nurse will be able to see you shortly. If you don’t calm down, then I will call security and have you removed. It’s your decision.”
These kinds of step by step procedures are not recommended due to the fact that human interaction is dynamic and therefore staff must be able to intuitively make ongoing assessments and utilize best practices (provided in training). In some cases “paint by number” procedures can actually increase the potential for violence.
From the employer’s point of view, there are several reasons why written procedures are important:
- They help define, clarify, and develop consistency in safe work practices.
- They provide a basis from which to measure practices/processes carried out by workers.
- If things don’t work or incidents occur, they are a basis from which to analyze work processes to see if changes in process are needed, or whether incidents may have been caused by workers not following safe work practices.
The above analysis leads to remedies. For example, the solution may be further training, improved procedures, increased supervision, additional staff, equipment maintenance, or personal protective equipment. In some cases, discipline may be part of the solution if it were determined that the worker consciously or willfully chose not to follow safe work procedures.
The most effective way to develop and implement procedures for a given function is to get input from those experienced staff with proven abilities in managing client interactions. In many cases, some staff will have already established very effective ways of handling situations based on their experience. Where this is the case, development of procedures may be a simple matter of getting these processes in writing so they can be easily passed on to others.
The objective of best practices is to identify aspects of work that can be systematized and hence increase consistency in how certain tasks are carried out, as opposed to being left to the better judgment of staff based solely on experience and possibly unchecked advice passed on from one worker to the next.
Appropriate Workplace Violence Prevention training should support such best practices and should be delivered consistently within the framework of agreed upon best practices rather than delivered based on the interpretation of an individual worker based on their presumed experience and skills.
An important point in having written best practices is so that the most pertinent information is consistently available. Without written procedures, guidelines and best practices, workers are left with having to “wing it” when it comes to addressing the policy.
Best practices should be supported by the workplace violence prevention curriculum that you eventually choose to deliver to staff. Contradictions between training and the written information provided will not only weaken your case for due diligence, but increase risk and undermine attempts at maintaining a consistent approach to managing conflict and preventing workplace violence. Remember, supervisors are responsible for making sure that workers are following written safety procedures and strategies provided in training.
Program binders on a shelf, panic buttons, cameras, guards and procedures alone will have little to do with the prevention of escalating client behaviours.
Arguably, Workplace Violence Prevention training is the most important component of a workplace violence program. Violence is an emotionally charged topic. Workers that regularly deal with challenging customers and situations often feel stressed, and in turn may be less productive. If they lack the skills needed to manage themselves and the customer, eventually they burn out. This can lead to poor customer service attitude and less safe communication choices that subsequently increase their level of risk. Specifically designed workplace violence prevention training should provide staff with the confidence needed to assess situations, proactively manage conflict and respond in the safest and most effective way.
Hugh Pelmore is the President of ARETE safety and protection inc., a Canadian firm that specializes in training and consultation for workplace violence prevention and management of workplace conflict. Mr. Pelmore has facilitated more than 4300 workplace violence prevention workshops within virtually every industry sector and is recognized as one of Canada’s leading experts. Clients include the Provincial Government of BC, BC Hydro, the University of Western Ontario, BC Hydro, WorkSafeBC and the City of Vancouver. http://www.arete.ca/ toll free: 1 877 337-1122