Customer/Client Violence: Considerations and Rationale for Procedural Development

Violence as an Occupational Health and Safety Issue

The awareness and acknowledgment of violence being an occupational health and safety issue has grown immensely, especially within the last ten years, and the importance of clear and practical procedures and best practices has become increasingly apparent. Written procedures are, essentially, a series of steps that guide a worker through a particular work process. It is important that the steps are written in a straightforward manner:

  • Easily understood.
  • Realistic and effective so they are consistently followed and used.
  • Able to be easily monitored and evaluated for their effectiveness.

Employee Safety and Best Practices for Violence Prevention

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 they can measure practices/processes carried out by workers.

If things do not work or incidents occur, they are a starting point to analyze work processes to see if changes in these processes are needed and if there is the possibility that the incidents may have been caused by workers not following safety protocals. The solution may be further training, improved procedures, increased supervision, additional staff, equipment maintenance, or personal protective equipment.

Developing Effective Customer/Client Violence Prevention Procedures

An effective way to develop and implement procedures is to get input from staff directly involved in a given function. In many cases, staff will have already established very effective ways of handling situations based on their experience. Where this is the case, the 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 most safely carried out. 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 and their presumed experience and skills.

Safe Work Practices

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. Supervisors are responsible for making sure that workers are following written procedures and communication strategies provided in training.

Human interaction is dynamic and therefore “paint by number” procedures do not work well. Staff members interacting with clients need to be able to intuitively make ongoing assessments and utilize best practices provided in interactive violence prevention and verbal de-escalation training.

It is important to note that risk of violence including serious threats, are often determined by the choices made by employees in response to customer behaviours. Contributing factors that can lead to escalated customer situations include:

  • Speaking to a customer in a condescending manner
  • Rolling your eyes
  • Interrupting them while they are venting
  • Not listening
  • Sarcasm
  • Pointing to ‘zero tolerance’ signage
  • Setting verbal limits with escalated clients
  • Turning and walking away
  • Threatening them

It is not hard to imagine why “paint by number” procedures and responses to volatile client behaviours are not effective and may actually serve to escalate situations. Here is an example of a procedure that does not support the safety of workers or the de-escalation of behaviours.

When a client demonstrates escalating behaviours, staff must set gentle but firm limits. “If you calm down, the nurse will be able to see you shortly. If you do not calm down, then I will call security and have you removed. It is your decision.

In order to truly enhance employee safety, employees need to be provided with effective workplace violence prevention and de-escalation techniques training. Procedures and best practices must be provided in order to support the strategies learned in training.

Once employees have been trained on how to assess customer behaviours, trust their intuition, and de-escalate the continuum of anger, the following safe work procedures are more likely to support an effective response to the following public interactions.

Low Levels of Customer Anger

If the customer is demonstrating low levels of anger, and you have assessed that it will be safe and effective to do so, setting verbal limits may be effective.

Suggested Communication: “I want to assist you and I will. If you could please stop swearing. Thanks so much.”

Escalated Levels of Customer Anger

  1. Ignore the language, focus on defusing and prepare to disengage.
  2. Option: Disengage for a moment and return shortly.
  3. Option: Disengage and trade off with a co-worker or supervisor.
  4. Supervisors should follow up at a safe time with the customer regarding their behaviours and inform staff of the actions taken.

When possible, training should be job and task specific, interactive and practical. Procedural binders that sit on a shelf, installed panic buttons, CCTV cameras, security guards and even well written procedures alone will unlikely prevent the escalation of client behaviours or impact the choices staff make in response to these challenging interactions.

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