A Murder Stirs Fear and Sparks Change: How to Protect Front-Line Workers

Jack Kresnak
July 1, 1998

Following are excerpts from “Safety Guidelines” issued by the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers:

A written safety plan specific to the function and layout of each agency must be developed. Both staff input and expert consultation are important. Each plan must be detailed and comprehensive so all staff members know exactly what to do in case of emergency.

A comprehensive safety plan should include:

  • How to recognize signs of agitation.
  • What to do at first signs of agitation.
  • Code words and phrases to signal for help without increasing the client’s agitation.
  • Format for ongoing assessment of a client’s level of dangerousness.
  • Format for intervention including when and how to attempt de-escalation; when and how to use nonviolent self-defense physical evasion, force deflection and disengagement skills; when and how to call security or police, and when and how to evacuate a building.
  • Ensure adequate lighting at agency buildings inside and out.
  • Establish a risk room where potentially violent or agitated clients can be seen.
  • Evaluate the need for safety equipment including buzzers and alarms in offices.
  • Address institutional practices that unintentionally contribute to client violence.

When making home visits, several steps can be taken:

  • Leave itinerary with office staff so worker location is known at all times.
  • Phone the office frequently when in the field.
  • Provide portable phones and other safety equipment.
  • Provide escort options such as staff or police.
  • Give permission not to go when risk of violence is high.

For more information contact the National Association of Social Workers, 750 E. First Street, NE, Suite 700, Washington, DC, 20002-4241. Phone: (202) 408-8600.

Kresnak, Jack. "A Murder Stirs Fear and Sparks Change: How to Protect Front-Line Workers." Youth Today, July/August 1998, p. 40.

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