PRIORITISING PERSONAL SAFETY IN THE PROPERTY MANAGEMENT SECTOR
Lone working is a necessary part of many jobs, but when you work without close or direct supervision, it may be more difficult to manage challenging situations. Without the immediate support of your colleagues, you might sometimes be more vulnerable to violence and aggression, and must be able to resolve issues quickly and keep yourself safe when alone.
Those working in the property management sector are likely aware of this challenge. Sadly, it is not unusual for people in public facing jobs to face violence and aggression at work, and when employees work in other people’s homes, the level of risk can be even higher. For example, when lone workers deliver bad news to a tenant, they need skills to manage other people’s expectations and emotions, and react appropriately if the situation becomes unsafe.
This year, a national survey by Inside Housing magazine found that there had been a minimum of one physical or verbal assault against a frontline housing worker every 35 minutes in 2016-17. It is not surprising that 99% of housing workers asked said that they felt as unsafe, or less safe than they did last year.
As a personal safety charity which offers training to lone workers (www.suzylamplugh.org/Pages/Category/lone-worker-training), we hear reports of assaults on people who work in housing and property management all too often. One lone worker told us that a client's spouse had attacked them as they were leaving an appointment. Another reported that he had been held at knife point by a client during a home visit.
It should go without saying that violent and aggressive behaviour like this is unacceptable and that perpetrators should be reprimanded, but for many lone workers an important question takes precedent: what can I do to make myself safer?
To begin with, it's worth remembering that employers must provide a safe place of work for all their employees. This includes lone workers and those who work away from the office; these members of staff should not be put at more risk than any other worker and the unique problems that they could face should be risk assessed and addressed.
To avoid their staff coming to any harm, employers should take reasonable precautions. While it may be necessary for a property manager to attend a site visit alone, the hazards associated with this job should be identified ahead of the visit and management strategies should be put into place. From actual physical harm, to aggressive behaviour and threats, there must be a framework which assesses dangers and provides tangible solutions to help all staff stay safe.
Another helpful safety tool is your company's lone worker policy. This policy should clearly explain what risks workers could face; what employers and employees are expected to do if a dangerous situation arises; and what procedures are in place to protect staff from harm. Everyone who works for the company should know where they can find this policy, and it should take all working environments faced by staff into consideration.
Policies and procedures will vary. No organisation or job is exactly the same, so no personal safety policy should be the same either. It’s important that you use your expertise, either as an employee who experiences their job daily or as a manager who can spot potential issues while overseeing jobs, to decide what is best practice for your workforce. Procedures can include anything from having a buddy on-site, to using personal alarms and lone worker devices. All these systems are designed to protect people and make sure that problems are identified quickly.
Finally, personal safety training can be invaluable when staff face danger. Personal safety systems, lone worker devices and company policies are only useful if people know how to use them. By providing personal safety training, you and your employees can better consider the circumstances which affect your day-to-day safety, and how you can improve the safety decisions you make. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to training; courses should, and can, fit your unique needs.
Overall, prioritising personal safety is key. While policies can help with staff safety, employees must also be given the information and skills they need to respond safely in different situations. By offering robust training (www.suzylamplugh.org/trainthetrainer) and emphasising the importance of personal safety, employers can address any gaps in staff knowledge and embed personal safety into their organisation’s culture.
We are grateful to Saskia Garner, Policy Officer at Suzy Lamplugh Trust for providing this article specifically for ARMA members.