Enhance your Success by Keeping Employees Safe

By Bob Chrismas

In today’s world, people working with the public are at a growing risk of being victims of abuse or outright violence. We’re seeing increased disrespect for authority and behaviour that defies social mores, disrespecting other’s property and service providers such as convenience store staff. 

Exacerbate this with severe addictions that we see across North America with the current meth crisis, which often sees people in states of psychosis and violent behaviour. As a leader and manager, you have a responsibility to create a reasonably safe work environment for your employees and also to give them the training and equipment to deal effectively with situations they may likely encounter in the workplace.

Improving employee safety can pay off in numerous ways, allowing them to be more engaged, secure, and happy, which in turn can improve productivity, reduce property damage and loss, as well as the obvious legal, financial, and management implications of workplace injuries and trauma. Many precautions are not cost prohibitive, although there is a billion-dollar security industry that is happy to up-sell any takers. That is not to besmirch the products and services available from security consultants; it is just a word of caution that sometimes a brighter light bulb in an existing socket can have the same effect as an expensive new lighting system. In this article, I draw on my 35 years of experience in policing and share some free advice on some inexpensive strategies for keeping your employees safer. 

First, realize that your business and your employees are at risk. The sooner you accept this reality, the better opportunity you have to be pre-emptive. Read the news, stay abreast of current crime trends, and listen to your legal advisors about your responsibilities as an owner or manager. My advice is to over-prepare, be the company with the most excellent safety record, show your employees that you care, for the reasons mentioned above. There is a point of diminishing returns at which the expense for security measures, in terms of time and money, begins to reap fewer rewards; this is the calculation I would encourage managers to consider. 

Second, train your employees in situational awareness. Most situations can be de-escalated or even avoided if one can recognize a threat and react appropriately. Training is probably the most valuable thing you can offer; it is cheap and can offer the opportunity for other rewards, such as team building. I highly recommend some basic self-defence training from a qualified trainer. The benefit of this is not learning how to fight; it is learning situational awareness and having the ability to react effectively when a situation occurs. Paradoxically, the more highly trained people are in legitimate self-defence techniques, the less likely they are to become involved in a fight. Training makes people situationally aware; they learn to remain calm and avoid threats. Ask any experienced police officer; the first thing they do when they enter a room is scan for threats, note the blind spots, and where the exits are in case they need to get out. Employees should be trained to recognize the signs of a customer who is potentially in a violent meth induced state of psychosis, or one who is displaying signs that they are about to rob the place- and then act according to the training they’ve received. 

Being prepared can be the difference between a life-and-death scenario or a non-event. Simple things such as wearing sensible shoes with some grip that you can run in or stay upright during a scuffle can make a big difference. Even Bruce Lee would have a hard time defending himself in high heels. Uniformed police officers wear clip-on ties so that someone cannot strangle them during a scuffle. Consider the clothing employees wear, not having long flowing hair exposed, or jewellery that can be grabbed.

Situational awareness is key, but then knowing how to react is equally important. Having clear and developed policies and procedures and practicing them is critical. A procedure that is filed in the office is useless unless it is practiced. Have training days and walk your employees through scenarios so that when a situation occurs, the training they did will kick in. In the military, policing, and all emergency services, we’ve learned from long experience that one never knows how you will act under stress until you are there. When attacked or threatened, some people freeze, some over-react, and some are able to remain calm. The only way to overcome stress responses is to practice in conditions that resemble as close to reality as possible. If one of your policies is to call the police in a certain circumstance (as in most businesses), don’t just advise employees to call the police; train them to do it well. Create scenarios where the employee is to call the police during simulated stress and provide all the information necessary for an effective police response. One tried and true technique is to have them raise their heartbeat by doing some aerobic exercise and then make the call. The raised heart rate is similar to the physiological stress response.  

Thirdly, think about crime prevention through environmental design. Common-sense things, like ensuring proper lighting, removing blind-spots that a criminal might find enticing, and installing security cameras that work, can significantly enhance the safety of your work environment. Ask your local beat constable to have a look around and see if they can offer you any free advice on improving security. Review and update your policies regularly and ensure the employees are trained in them. Employee safety should be a top priority for any business owner or manager who wants to have the highest productivity and success.  

Bob Chrismas, Ph.D., is an author, scholar, consultant, passionate speaker and social justice advocate, police professional with internationally recognized expertise in community engagement and crime prevention. An advocate for social reform, he has written and speaks extensively on innovative trends in policing, community partnership and governance. Visit Bob at: BChrismas.com