We’ve all seen the cycle play out before. A safety incident (of any kind) occurs, and there’s a rush to spend money on visible treatments to address the issues. We can speculate all day about the motivation for this sudden availability of budget, but that’s beside the point.
Often one of the first things that money is spent on is a new engineering or tech-based control. Partly because most facility managers have a drawer full of gadget brochures, and partly because there’s generally a quick turnaround time between ordering a product and having the control in place. It’s certainly easier to realise installation of a duress system than it is to effectively train all personnel or conduct a cultural change project.
While these treatments do make up an important component of an integrated risk reduction campaign, they are next to useless if they are not rolled out with appropriate education surrounding why it is being installed, how to use it, and what it means for the broader organisation.
Let’s take, for example, a personal duress pendant being introduced to a group of social workers that provide remote and home-based care.
Acme Social Care, in a panic to protect workers after an incident, purchase 100 duress pendants for their 150-strong workforce, allowing for one pendant for every staff member in the field plus a few spares. The workers themselves have no knowledge that this is happening, they just show up to work one morning and there is a desk full of tiny black devices they are supposed to hang from their neck. The company operations manager gives a five minute overview of the device, how to activate it if you’re in trouble, and a phone number to call if you have any difficulties. Of course, half a dozen staff miss this briefing as they were running late, in the bathroom, or still getting coffee. No matter, it’ll be repeated later.
Now the staff are in the field, attending to duties, and they realise they have questions.
How do I know if the button has worked? Is someone going to call me? Are the police going to come?
Under what circumstances is it okay to press the button? If client is raising their voice is that a duress situation? Or should I wait until they’re threatening me?
What are the consequences for me if I press it and it was nothing? Will I be shamed for overreacting?
What are the consequences for my client? I don’t want them to get in trouble with the police.
How long is it going to take someone to get here if I really need help?
These questions and many more fill their heads with doubt, and because wearing the pendant is not habitual, quite often they get left in vehicles during visits. After a period of no incidents and no follow up training, the majority of the staff are putting the pendants in their bags or leaving them in their cars. Often they are not accounted for at the end of shift, and therefore not charged for the next shift. The project has been expensive and has achieved very little in terms of making staff safer.
Rolling out an engineering or tech-based solution without accounting for the myriad human factors that will determine the overall effectiveness of the risk control is, in almost all cases, a massive waste of money.