According to recent figures from NHS Protect physical attacks on NHS staff have risen 6% in the last year. Gerry Ellis, member of The Security Institute and Managing Director of Stand2 (Specialist Training & Development) Ltd, responds to this increased risk of conflict by calling for increased awareness and proper training for staff in conflict management.
Emotional outbursts, such as conflict, violence and aggression against the workforce are a growing concern. These situations, in surroundings such as NHS facilities, are likely to be exacerbated by increased demands on staff, decreases in staffing and reductions in resources. The effects of violent incidents impact both the individual and the organisation, with the organisation often seeing negative cycle with breakdown in morale, increased absenteeism and reduced efficiency.
Much existing training focuses on verbal resolution and is based on the principle that the key skill in managing violent situations is the ability to communicate effectively. This is a dangerous assumption. Although such skills are important, and should form part of any programme, it is dangerous to place so much emphasis on communication skills and ignore the fact that the people who can be reasoned with are generally not the ones who lash out and assault staff.
Despite the clear need for ‘at risk’ staff to understand how to protect themselves and control a potentially violent situation, there is still resistance from managers to provide appropriate training in ‘physical skills’. One can understand the restraint in commissioning training that includes physical skills as many have witnessed or experienced unrealistic or inappropriate training first hand. However, the benefits of experiencing credible, quality training far outweighs the cost of doing nothing.
Why teach physical skills?
Knowledge and theoretical understanding alone is soon forgotten unless that knowledge can be translated into action. Teaching staff to deal with potentially aggressive and violent people without teaching the associated physical skills is like trying to teach them to play football without a ball!
An aversion to physical skills may be due to management believing that situations can be managed by staff keeping their distance and using good communication skills to deal with conflict. Whilst this is a good starting strategy, it has its limits. For example, how would a member of staff treat a confused patient who may lash out, without getting close to them? What should staff do if an aggressor physically moves closer and blocks any escape?
Closing your eyes, crossing your fingers and hoping for the best may be the answer. Any other solution would, of course, require the application of physical skills.
Legal and Human Resource departments are often concerned about the risk of injury when teaching physical skills, or the perceived risk of litigation if their staff apply physical skills in the workplace. Unfortunately life is not that simple.
To paraphrase former United States President, John F. Kennedy, “Whilst there is a risk involved in any action there is a greater risk involved in comfortable inaction.”
While I am demonstrating the necessity of physical skills training for conflict management, managers should be aware that no training at all may actually be better for their staff than poor training. Passing poor training over may save more than just money. There is no doubt that ignorance gets people hurt, but so do complacency, false hope and unrealistic expectations.
All too often conflict management and personal safety training is nothing more than rebranded customer services training. This approach, although well intentioned, can inadvertently set people up to fail in an unforgiving environment. Unfortunately organisations often adopt this approach and fail to teach staff what to do when communication skills fail, or teach inappropriate personal safety skills that cannot be applied under pressure.
Another precarious tendency is to teach skills in a modularised way, where key subjects are taught separately. For example, skills such as conflict resolution, breakaway and control techniques are often taught as separate courses. However, these skills are inter-dependent and should be taught together, along with other relevant skills to provide staff with the full range of options they may need. To provide people with only part of a solution makes it difficult for them to see the bigger picture and to respond appropriately under stress.
Who needs training?
It is important that any complex organisation recognises that employees often require different levels of training to match differing operational needs whilst adopting a well-recognised and easy to understand corporate approach. The type and level of training needs to be identified through risk assessment and the level of protection required by staff in their particular role. This can be broken down by levels as follows:
- Level 1 – Staff who are unlikely to deal with criminal behaviour and/or aggression and violence either because they do not have direct contact with the public or they deal with a low risk client group
- Level 2 – Staff who may occasionally have to deal with difficult behaviour and/or aggression and violence but can extract themselves from the situation and call upon immediate support where required.
- Level 3 – Staff who may occasionally have to deal with criminal behaviour and/or aggression and violence, e.g. direct aggression, who may not always be able to call upon immediate support from colleagues when required.
- Level 4 – Staff members who regularly deal with potential conflict and may have to confront and manage difficult circumstances alone or as a team.
Quality from credibility
The final, but no less important, aspect of training is the credibility of the individual trainer. Even the best programme in the world will be compromised if the person delivering the training lacks credibility in terms of teaching ability and relevant experience.
At Stand2, for instance, we have the advantage that we develop and deliver our own training based on our own extensive expertise, rather than relying on other companies’ products. This expertise allows us to provide a bespoke and flexible programme, based on a proven model which can evolve with the needs of individual organisations.
The practitioner based qualifications and experience of the Stand2 team are too numerous to list, but all the instructors are highly experienced and qualified across a range of sectors including the police, military, security, close protection and health/social care. All of our trainers have completed the NOCN level 3 CARE programme instructors course and also hold a wide range of educational qualifications up to degree level. We always seek to match the trainers with the most relevant experience and qualifications to the clients’ needs.
It is that experience, together with the operationally proven C.A.R.E. (Countering Aggression and Response to Emergencies) system which sets Stand2 apart from other training providers.
The Conflict Management and Physical Intervention training programmes are all based on our unique and highly effective C.A.R.E. Programme, which will teach students to apply a logical and systematic approach to the management of conflict, aggression and violence. The training is principle rather than technique based and as such can be applied in any context, giving staff the freedom to adapt.