Managing and responding to dangerous situations
Updated: 29 July 2019
Violence can be defined as a public or private act that engenders fear or feelings of vulnerability. It includes any act that can be perceived as threatening to ones wellbeing. Staff safety is critical to our ability to provide a quality service to children, young people and whānau or family. We each have a role to play, from informing of dangerous or potentially dangerous situations through to developing strategies and responses to dangerous situations.
Managing dangerous situations
Responding to dangerous situations requires action be taken when a threat is identified as being present. The action needs to identify the level of risk and result in the development of a plan to ensure the:
- immediate safety of all involved
- ongoing safety of employees involved
- ongoing safety of the child or young person
- integrity of the ongoing case work.
Examples of dangerous situations
Examples of dangerous situations requiring an immediate response from the management team are:
- employees or their whānau or family are being threatened
- employee/s have been assaulted by a child or young person or a whānau or family member
- a whānau or family member is making loud verbal threats in reception.
Prompts to increase safety in the building and while working out and about
Safety is absolutely paramount. It’s important to be aware of the surroundings and take precautions.
When leaving the office:
- think about where you are going, who or what may be encountered, and what safety or security risks might be there — practitioners should review the Worker Safety Alerts on CYRAS for their cases and ensure they are current
- take additional support or people if needed
- have a Keeping in Touch plan, and let the manager or a colleague know where you are going and when, and how to get in touch with you if you don’t return when expected
- on arrival, continually assess the environment and people in it for potential safety and security risks
- have an exit strategy — try to position yourself so you have a clear path to leave and have an explanation ready about why you have to go
- have important numbers programmed into your mobile phone in a way that can quickly be accessed (such as Favourites) and make sure the Mobile Duress Alarm is functioning — contact email@example.com with any questions.
When in the office and all workplaces:
- ensure obviously dangerous objects are removed — in the right circumstances many objects can be used as weapons or to cause harm, so think about how to restrict access to anything that can cause harm in public spaces
- ensure that, if you're working outside normal hours, others know where you are, the purpose of the work and when to expect you to check in.
Other actions for the site to take
- In interview rooms, have escape routes to safe areas, alarms and outside observation.
- Develop a site policy on managing violence and make sure it's available and visible to staff and visitors
- Promote safety training and non-violent crisis intervention training for all staff.
- Provide access to buzzer and duress alarms and develop an organised and written response plan.
- Provide access to first-aid training and supplies and have nominated trained people to respond.
- Educate staff about the incident form procedure.
- Develop a site health and safety policy and planning team.
- Ensure there are emergency evacuation schemes for different emergencies.
- Ensure the site OSH hazard register is complete.
- Access formalised support systems, including professional supervision.
- Know the reporting procedures for violent incidents.
Responding and restoring wellbeing
Managers and supervisors need processes in place for implementing an immediate response to all threatening incidents. These processes could include the following actions:
- taking all threats seriously and dealing with them promptly
- providing management support during emergencies
- establishing a local appropriately trained response team established to respond to emergencies with assigned authority and resources
- contacting Police regarding all assaults, threatening or intimidating behaviours or harassment
- responding appropriately to an employee’s feelings and perceptions of any threat or danger (given the potential risk of minimising)
- providing employee’s access, on request, to senior managers to discuss any dangerous situation, endorsing shared responsibility for difficult decisions
- debriefing employees at the earliest opportunity regarding any critical incidents
- recording and reporting on the appropriate forms to the designated manager outlining the incidents and the actions taken
- regularly reviewing and monitoring that the procedures are being followed
- instigating ongoing wellbeing plans for employees involved.
Ongoing work to manage dangerous situations
The work of management in managing dangerous situations needs to include:
- discussing newly identified dangerous cases with workers and supervisors
- setting up appropriate support systems tailored to particular cases and workers
- monitoring and reviewing all dangerous situations regularly
- maintaining links with Police, health professionals, community providers, and legal services in relation to identified dangerous situation cases
- arranging and confirming the creation of worker safety alerts in CYRAS
- arranging support services to staff
- assisting with inter-agency case meetings, sharing concerns, and clarifying the degree of risk
- reporting to the Regional Manager on the extent of the problem where appropriate.
Follow-up checklist post incident
The following questions assist managers or supervisors in ensuring the principles and procedures are actioned appropriately:
- have all the risks been identified to manage threats to employee safety on and off site?
- has medical attention been sought? Does it require ACC forms?
- has the incident been recorded in SOSHI2 as a security or injury incident as applicable?
- has the employee/s concerned got the support and resources needed to minimise or isolate the threat/danger?
- have employees been informed about how to access critical incident management and employee assistance programme information?
- has the safety of the child or young person been assured?
- has the integrity of the casework been assured?
- have those who need to know about the incident been informed?
- have all the appropriate people on the site been debriefed?
- has the incident been recorded and reported by employee/s, supervisor and manager?
- if the incident is child or young person specific, has it been recorded in their case record?
Increasing our safety when working
The situations in which we work are complex, challenging and can, at times, impact on our safety. While some aspects of this may be entirely unanticipated, there are practices, or habits that we can all develop that help maintain and increase our safety.
Responding to conflict and confrontation in practice
Much of the work we undertake entails a level of conflict and confrontation. As an organisation with statutory authority, children, young people and their whānau or family may sense there is a power imbalance and their responses can reflect this. At all times, working to share the power and decision-making with children and young people, their whānau or family assists with keeping people engaged and also reduces the potential for conflict to escalate. Sometimes the level of conflict or confrontation becomes concerning and requires a considered approach to responding. Your supervisor or manager can assist with developing a strategy or response to such situations. It’s important that you bring these to their attention as soon as possible. The purpose of these notes is to provide some help when dealing with disputes or confrontation type situations.
Listening to the person complaining or the other half of the confrontation is crucial. If we don’t listen, we don’t identify the disputed issues and therefore can’t help develop solutions. A confrontation is likely to escalate out of frustration if either party can see they are not getting their point across.
We need to convey to people that we are actively listening to their concerns. Some useful suggestions (NZ Police, 1993) for active listening include:
- listening to the person and not trying to talk
- putting the person at ease so they feel free to talk
- showing the person by what you say to them, your body language and your tone of voice, that you are ready to listen
- giving good feedback, and repeat what you understand the speaker to be saying
- trying to develop a conversation rather than an argument
- trying to remain calm and not defensive regardless of how agitated the person was beforehand.
The first few seconds of confrontation will often dictate whether it escalates or fizzles out. You can stop it escalating:
- by appearing confident, assertive and calm
- by creating some firm behaviour and language parameters. If you are sworn at, tell the person as a warning the first time that you will not be sworn at or abused and if it happens again, they will be asked to leave. If it happens again, tell the person you warned them and remove yourself from the situation or ask them to leave
- by being a good communicator. Tell the person that not only can you not do what they want but tell them why you cannot do it. Tell them about what you can do.
By listening to a person during confrontation, we can often identify what the central issue of dispute is. If we can identify it:
- repeat it to the person in your own words so you know you are both on the same wavelength. Many disputes escalate needlessly because of misunderstandings and the resultant frustration
- it is important you agree with the person if the matter raised is genuine and tell them what you intend to do about it
- once the issue is identified and confirmed, strive to find some common ground – ask the person what they want you to do about it. Sometimes you will not be able to satisfy those needs. If not explain why. Suggest alternatives. Negotiate
- if you are unable to identify the problem try to avoid an argument and remove yourself from the situation as best you can and agree to discuss further on a different day with support people present if they choose.
The worst possible scenario is the verbal confrontation developing further into a physical one. This can happen quite quickly therefore it is important that your safety is paramount. Do what you need to do to remove yourself from the situation and inform your manager of any threats. If necessary call 111.
Using the child and family consult or young person and family consult
When we map the danger, harm and safety aspects of a case, turning our attention to worker safety helps us to understand aspects of the case work that impact on worker safety. Using an appreciative inquiry approach to facilitation helps tease out any fears or concerns the social worker may have and helps build understanding of any dangerous dynamics in the case work.
What is a dangerous situations team?
A dangerous situations team is designed to address any identified concerns raised by a worker or workers who feel unsafe. Having a dangerous situation team accessible for each site is the responsibility of the site manager and they need to meet regularly, although the frequency may vary from site to site. An incident or situation specific team may also be created in response to a specific situation and membership may vary from situation to situation. This approach acknowledges that there are different skills mixes and some situations require individually tailored responses.
Dangerous situations teams are led by managers and the team may involve the following other members:
- a member of the Care and Protection Resource Panel
- practice leader
- legal representative
- staff safety representative
- professionals from other agencies.
Dangerous situations teams can have a range of roles, depending on need. These may include:
- providing objective advice on the management of dangerous situations
- assisting with the completion of a plan
- reviewing the plan as required
- advising management to any identified practice, training or staff issues relating to dangerous situations.
As a manager you have responsibility for the safety of your workers. These prompts may assist in ensuring that the worker’s safety is assured:
- check that the worker(s) concerned received the support/resources needed to minimise/isolate danger
- confirm that the safety of the child or young person has been assured
- establish how the integrity of the case work been assured
- inform all those who need to know about this incident
- ascertain if the police are involved and if interviews have happened and statements taken
- check if medical attention is needed
- ensure any appropriate ACC forms are completed
- offer peer support to affected staff
- offer psychological first aid where appropriate
- appropriate recording regarding the incident
- follow up and monitoring by supervisor.
NZ Police (1993). Christchurch Crime Prevention.