What policies and procedures need to be in place?
The short answer to this question is quite simply those that are required. If there is a likelihood of staff having to manage people who can be difficult to the point of being threatening, intimidating or dangerous, then health and safety legislation demands that the employer addresses this in order to minimise the risk of injury to staff. This would normally be in the form of policy and procedures. If there is no likelihood at all of staff harm, then policy and procedures are irrelevant. Whether and what procedures are required will be determined by risk assessment. A comprehensive examination of the tasks of the agency should identify where there is the potential for staff being hurt – these are called ‘hazards’. A further assessment should be made of each of these hazards about the likelihood of the harm actually occurring, and, if it did, what would be the severity of the consequences. If the overall assessment is that the risks are always negligible or tolerable, then no action may be required. However, if the judgement is that staff may face unacceptable risks, then the employer must look to see how the risks to staff can be minimised. This is often where policy and procedures are used. An ‘aggression and violence’ policy is the employer’s recognition that staff face the possibility of meeting danger from service users and other members of the public while doing their jobs. Further, it is a statement of commitment by the employer to the ongoing safety of the staff and also a catalogue of intentions – that is, what will be done within the organisation to make it tolerably safe for staff, such as preventive measures, staff training, incident reporting and monitoring, post-incident management, and so on. Obviously a written policy is only of use if it is applied within the organisation. Employers are justifiably warned that, in the event of a nasty incident and an inspection by the enforcing authority, such as the Health and Safety Executive, it is not simply the written policy that is subject to scrutiny, but also how it is applied on a day-to-day basis to support staff adequately in the course of their work. Also, all staff need to be aware that an official agency policy has the force of law within the agency and it can be used in determining outcomes in, say, an industrial tribunal. Risk assessment will often highlight the need for approaching certain tasks and situations in particular ways in order to minimise the risk of injury to staff. These are what are called ‘procedures’, a set a job instructions. Typical procedures required in health and social care settings might include monitoring who is on the premises and where, provision and use of safety equipment such as mobile phones or radios, how to summon support, traceability systems, lone working, joint working in certain circumstances, working out-of-hours, rehearsed verbal and non-verbal approaches, informing colleagues, reporting and recording incidents, leaving a situation, calling the police, physical self-protection, use of control and restraint, dealing with the aftermath of an incident, and so on. Procedures are not meant to be straitjackets, denying staff the opportunity to use their professional skills and judgement. They are intended to protect and support. If they don’t, then obviously they need to be revisited. Experience suggests that the most acceptable and appreciated procedures are those that have been devised in consultation with the staff who have to use them, and that are non-complicated and not adding significantly to the workload. Ideally, procedures should become workplace habits. Finally, staff should never forget that procedures designed in a health and safety context are mandatory. They must be followed, and staff discretion is severely limited. There are many cases of front-line staff being prosecuted through the criminal courts when their failure to follow laid-down safety procedures has had catastrophic effects for colleagues.