Increases in workplace violence and aggression are being reported in sectors ranging from healthcare and social care to education and corporate campus settings. At most risk are staff in public facing roles, those working in the community, and those in isolated settings. But all workers are vulnerable and, with an increase in remote working, risks have spread beyond traditional boundaries.
Even a single incident – a verbal or physical assault – can be devastating. It can undermine an individual’s self-confidence, their sense of security, and their motivation, both in the immediate aftermath of the incident and in the longer term.
In settings where incidents occur repeatedly, or where the threat is perceived to be persistent, the effects can be even more corrosive. A sense of anxiety felt by one team member can spread, and impact colleagues too. This can lead to a downward spiral, with staff who are less confident becoming less effective at de-escalation, less able to control their interactions with others, and as a consequence more vulnerable.
We see the results of this negative spiral in increased stress, higher levels of sickness and absence, and greater costs for organizations as they struggle to maintain service levels. In settings such as healthcare, where there is already understaffing, one result of violence and aggression is that organizations are being forced to use more bank and agency staff and divert more resources to recruitment and retention. They also face increased risks of litigation, or penalties from regulators, if they fail in their duty of care to keep staff safe.
So what can organizations do to more effectively protect their people, improve confidence, and at the same time reduce their corporate risks?
Rethinking systems for communications, duress assistance, and rapid response is an important measure. It is also a strategy that offers new scope for partnership working between organizations and agencies, and we are seeing this in a number of cities and regions, where the concept of ‘safe cities’ and ‘alliances’ is taking root.
A new concept of ‘safety everywhere’ is being established – for example, with healthcare providers working with neighbouring institutions such as universities, local authorities, emergency services, and private companies to extend protection to their people beyond traditional boundaries.
Where these partnerships have been established, the concept of duty of care as a responsibility which ends the moment an employee leaves the premises, is becoming a thing of the past.
This is all being enabled by transformative technology. The big weaknesses of older solutions is that they were only effective in certain locations,they were less easy to use and didn’t support the most effective response.
For example, fixed ‘blue phone’ call points only worked if the person needing help was within reach, and if the phone had been maintained in good working order; and emergency phones didn’t automatically provide the control room operator with relevant information about the person requesting help, such as details of particular vulnerabilities; they didn’t allow real-time location sharing, to support a flexible response if the person needing help moved to another location; and there are always familiarity barriers when systems are designed to be used only in emergency situations.
Many of these limitations – lack of geographic reach, limited functionality, and poor usability – also apply to traditional duress, RTLS and lone worker solutions.
And all of these technologies were typically expensive to operate and maintain. For example, duress solutions often have disincentivizing pricing structures that encourage organizations to compromise, and limit the number of users on the system. Sometimes, duty of care responsibility is pushed down to individual line managers who do not have the training or experience to choose which of their colleagues should be protected and which, because they are deemed to be ‘at less risk’, should not.
Increasingly, compromising on safety provision will be seen as an abdication of responsibility. Organizations vulnerable to accusations of neglect or failure if they don not establish staff protection standards that apply to all workers in every department.
The technology, and a more affordable monitoring service infrastructure, is now available to solve these problems; a new generation of solutions which allow every worker to contact a dedicated support team 24/7 to request emergency assistance – or routine help – from any location, wherever they are working or traveling for work.
And the concept of ‘safety everywhere’ really does mean everywhere. The same protective communications, emergency alert, and location pinpointing service is now improving care for staff working remotely – even overseas – as much as it is for those in the room next door.