Everyday across Britain, thousands of frontline housing staff will enter tenant’s properties as part of the vital role they play in the community. However a number of these workers may find themselves in situations where their own safety could be at risk.
Recent figures from Inside Housing revealed that in 12 months there were over 3,500 incidents where an assault was carried out against housing officers – one every 35 working minutes.
Stepping foot inside a resident’s home can increase vulnerability especially if the reason for their visit is to deal with difficult circumstances, such as a tenant who has a grievance or one that is struggling with addiction or mental health problems.
Lone working is also a factor as home visits are often carried out by a single employee, who are an easier target for abuse. Employers have a Duty of Care to protect staff from harm and must put in place practical safety measures.
Assess dangers and identify high-risk scenarios beforehand
Prior to a visit staff must prepare by reviewing background information on tenants. Records should be kept up to date so that if there is a change in circumstances, staff are aware of any potential red flags. Risk assessments must be carried out to identify dangers and relevant safety measures to mitigate them.
Avoid lone working if there are red flags
There are some situations where lone working is not appropriate. If a resident has a history of violent behaviour then staff should double up or meet in a public place instead.
Have procedures to account for colleagues
Employee contact details along with names and addresses of tenants should be recorded somewhere they can be easily accessed by colleagues. Likewise all appointments must be noted down before an employee leaves, with at least two staff made aware of when they’re due to return.
Provide an effective way for employees to get help
Personal alarms are commonly used by housing officers as they enable staff to discreetly seek help if they feel threatened. The advantage of monitored alarms is that users can communicate with an actual person who knows where they are, can listen for signs of distress and summon the emergency services. Some systems can alert others automatically after a set period of time if a user fails to check in at the end of an appointment.
Give appropriate training
Safety training should cover what staff must do before and during a visit. Good habits include familiarising themselves with the area, assessing a resident’s mood on the doorstep and noting where the exits are should they need to get out in a hurry. Employees need to be confident in recognising cues that suggest a person may become violent and familiar with de-escalation techniques such as lowering their tone of voice and using positive body language to help calm a situation down. Staff must be taught to trust their instincts and leave if they feel they’re in danger, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.