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2000 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 3, No. 2
July 1998

Promoting Safety in the Agency

All human services agencies should have safety policies and protocols. Properly conceived and implemented, these steps make clients and workers feel safe. At their best, they promote safe social work practice, reduce the chances of a violent or dangerous encounter, and facilitate a quick recovery for the victim and the agency as a whole when things do go wrong.

This article and "Suggestions for Making Agencies Safer" (next article) talk about some of the things people have done to improve agency safety. We hope this information will help you consider how safe your agency feels and give you ideas for making it even safer.

Safety First

Safe agencies talk about and act on safety concerns. This begins the first day on the job—safety skill training is a crucial part of orientation to the agency. All staff members should know how to recognize signs of an impending violent outburst and what they should do about it.

To further prepare staff, some agencies have a "violence plan," and rehearse their reactions, just like a fire drill. During this rehearsal, people practice techniques and responses and learn what needs to be done not only before and during a violent episode, but afterwards, to support the victim and everyone else.

Safety begins before people enter the building. Make it clear to clients that the agency has a "zero tolerance" policy with regard to carrying weapons or using drugs or alcohol prior to visiting the agency.

Focus special attention on the waiting room. Make sure it is pleasant and comfortable, and keep waiting time to a minimum. Carefully monitor temperature, crowding, and noise. Many agencies use silent alarms in this and other areas where clients may be, so that others can be alerted when trouble starts.

Organize the agency to promote safety. Some agencies limit access to staff work areas using keys or coded locks. Also, consider the arrangement of furniture in your office. Ideally, both you and the client should have easy access to the door—you shouldn't have to go around your desk or past the client to get out. It is also a good idea to eliminate "weapons of opportunity," such as paperweights, scissors, and staplers from areas clients access (Griffin, 1997).

Want to find out more? We encourage you to seek out the sources listed at the end of this and the other articles in this issue for further reading.

Sources

Flick, J. (1996). Defusing potentially violent situations: Keeping yourself and others safe. Unpublished. Presented at social worker safety training.

Griffin, W., Montsinger, J. & Carter, N. (1997). Resource guide for administrators and other personnel. Durham, NC: ILR, Inc.

1998 Jordan Institute for Families