Health care is a ‘people’ business, which means it can be fascinating, unpredictable, challenging and, at times, frightening.
People accessing health services and their families are often under great stress, which can make them behave unpredictably. Health care workers occasionally have to deal with people who are angry, aggressive, or even violent.
There are simple measures you can take to ensure you remain safe while carrying out your work. For instance, if you’re facing someone who’s being aggressive and perhaps shouting:
- maintain your respect for the person’s self-esteem and dignity
- don’t consider the aggression as being targeted at you personally
- adopt a non-aggressive stance and keep a good distance from the person, maintaining your own personal space
- remove, if you can, any potential hazards from the area and any immediate things that might be causing the person stress
- keep your voice at normal levels, even if the person is shouting
- be honest with the person – don’t try to mask your anxiety, but keep it controlled; you might say, for instance, ‘Your shouting is making me uncomfortable, Mr Smith, but I’m here because I want to help’
- try to get the person to explain what is troubling him or her (using the techniques we reviewed in communication methods)
- be assertive, but avoid getting into an argument with the person, even if you know what he or she is saying is wrong; focus on, and acknowledge, the reality of the person’s anger
- if you can, begin to offer some options that might resolve the situation – ‘Would it help if I … ?’
- if you work on your own (perhaps in a community setting), make sure your employer supplies you with adequate personal alarms and has a system to identify where you are at all times.
Sadly, a number of health care workers throughout the UK are assaulted by patients/clients or their carers every year. This is still a rare occurrence, but it’s important to emphasise that if it should happen to you, or if you feel you’ve been in a situation in which you’ve only narrowly escaped assault, you must report the incident to your manager or supervisor as soon as possible. This will help not only you, but also your fellow workers who may have to provide services for the person as well.
Follow Jane’s story in the activity below.
The RCN has around 900 safety representatives working in a range of sectors. They play a valuable role in driving up health and safety standards in the workplace and in providing advice for members on how to retain their security while at work. For more information, see: The role of RCN safety reps.