Working Safely with High Risk Populations- Part 3

Nov 26, 2019 10:17:30 AM

We are back with the third post in our blog series: De-Escalation, Active Listening, Personal Safety and Working Safely in High Risk Environments and with High Risk Populations: A Conversation with Wayne Spees, WGI Executive Consultant. In this final portion of the interview, we talk with Wayne about working with so-called “high risk” populations and the special safety concerns that this may entail.

Blog #3 of 3: Working with High Risk Populations

1. In your experience, what are “high risk populations?”

High risk populations are any group of people or location where acts of violence are not uncommon. If I told you there was a fist fight in a bar for example, you may not find that surprising. The same fist fight occurring in a Sunday church service though would be highly unusual. You could then say a bar is a higher risk environment and its patrons were a higher risk population for violence. Of course, there are many other contributing factors as to why it is “high risk”. This is why we don’t have bouncers in churches.

If you regularly work with high risk populations, or in high risk environments where acts of violence are not uncommon, you need to ensure your employees are prepared, and prepare yourself.

2. When you say, “we don’t rise to the occasion, we sink to our level of preparedness”, what do you mean? Why is this important?

In basic terms, we should not have unrealistic expectations of ourselves in unusual circumstances. Let’s say you don’t ever work out and tend to live a sedentary lifestyle. Would you take a bet that you can run a mile in under 6 minutes? Do you think you will rise to the occasion? However, if you were given 6 months to train and prepare for the event your chance of success is much more realistic.

Expecting that you will be able to handle a violent encounter without any training or experience would be as realistic as running that sub 6-minute mile. This type of preparation is important with regard to physical safety in high risk environments because it makes reacting to a potential threat in a safe way a more realistic outcome. Practicing – over and over – basic safety skills and protocols will help them become more “second nature” as a part of the way that you do your job on a regular basis.

3. What should a person who has never been in a physical confrontation expect? How can they prepare?

Our bodies can have a physiological response to extreme stress, but the response doesn’t always help us perform well in a given situation. Fear, confusion, and an inability to act can occur. Training through repetition is one way we can teach our bodies to perform more efficiently under stress. Now, I am not suggesting that everyone should immediately go out and take boxing lessons. That would be an unrealistic expectation. But if I know I have the limitation of not being a fighter, then I will react accordingly.

I recently witnessed an incident at the gym where I work out. Two rather large men were involved in a confrontation that was about to become violent. The gym manager, a much smaller woman, got between the two men and attempted to physically separate them. Given the difference in size and two-on-one ratio she was putting herself in a “lose-lose” situation. A better (and safer) solution might have been to call 911 and/or engage the help of individuals closer to the size of the two larger males.

The best advice I can give to a person who is not prepared for violence is to first take measures to avoid a violent act if at all possible. Second, is to create distance between you and the threat. Finally, if the first two are impossible, stay on your feet, keep moving and protect your face and head area.

4. What are the organizations you consult with doing to better prepare their workers for working around high risk environments and serving these populations?

Organizations are focused on training that deals with prevention. We are training and empowering our workers to be more aware of their surroundings and giving them the tools to avoid or prevent violent situations before they occur. There is also an emphasis on de-escalation. Employers see the value in training their workers in communication techniques to de-escalate a situation before it can become too emotional, escalated or physically dangerous. And we know that having these skills also better serves the clients and the communities in which these employees work – which is a “win-win” for all involved.

And that’s a wrap!

We hope you’ve enjoyed this interview series with our own Wayne Spees. At WGI, we have seen that many employers are taking steps to train their employees to provide them the skills necessary to work with the angry, aggressive and high-risk individuals that they may encounter within the scope of their jobs, with a goal of maximizing personal safety. These steps are vitally important, and our years of experience working with many types of organizations has shown us that impactful training, sound policies and proactive leadership further these safety initiatives and move everyone toward creating and maintaining a safer workplace for all.