Home >Lone and front-line workers need skills to deal with aggression and violence

Lone and front-line workers need skills to deal with aggression and violence

10 April 2019

Delegates from the likes of the retail industry, NHS, transport companies, mental-health services providers and local councils packed into the Lone Worker Theatre this morning (Wednesday) to find out from Worthwhile Training’s Nicole Vazquez how to manage violence and aggression towards their lone and front-line workers.

Nicole started by discussing the scale of the problem, pointing out that violence and aggression can be in the form of verbal abuse, threats and assault. “The key thing to understand,” she explained, “is the difference between fear and reality. Reports of incidents are all over the media and the Internet, leading to the perception that abuse, threats and assaults are happening all the time.

“So, should you manage the reality of the risk or the fear levels? The answer is: you need to manage both, because the fear level can get in the way of people doing their job properly. But don’t put all your eggs in one basket by focusing what are usually meagre resources on a threat that is perceived as serious – such as, at the moment, knife crime – but which, in reality, is only a very small percentage of the problem for you and your staff.”

The important thing is to give staff the skills to deal with all types and levels of violence, said Nicole. She continued: “Studies and statistics show that lone workers are more likely to be subjected to violence and aggression. And if they can’t call for help – or simply to turn to a colleague – immediately, any injury they sustain, mentally or physically, can be worse. Statistics also highlight the need to look at the behaviour of staff as a contributing factor.”

When staff are operating outside of your territory and therefore outside of your control, they have to rely far more on themselves, and that is where training comes into play. According to Nicole, such training should cover “dynamic risk assessment, personal behaviour to avoid risk and conflict, skills to defuse and de-escalate, permission to change or abort an activity, and physical intervention skills”.

But such training only works if the culture of the organisation is right, Nicole warned. She went on to show a video of two incidents on a train, involving two members of the train company’s staff – a customer host, selling refreshments from a mobile trolley, and a revenue protection officer. Both get into bother with a group of high-spirited lads largely because of the way each of them handled the situation, i.e. badly.

Nicole then invited the two workers (pictured) – who are actually employees of Worthwhile Training, who acted the parts of train staff members in the video – to discuss their actions, and take questions from the audience as to why they behaved how they did.

“The lesson to be learned from this,” Nicole explained, “is how important it is for managers to understand why people behave the way they do. After all, it is managers who ‘train’ their staff on a day-to-day basis. The recruitment process is also key. Don’t recruit people who are likely to have ‘attitude’ for roles where that might get them into trouble.”

In summary, she said employers of lone workers and those on the front line can manage violence and aggression towards their staff by:

  • understanding the risks and impact;
  • developing workable control measures and testing them;
  • providing engaging, effective and empowering training; and
  • ensuring the culture of the organisation – from the very top and down through the various teams – is supportive.