Students in field must pay attention to their own personal safety and be aware of their environment. It is difficult to predict when dangerous situations or threatening behaviors might occur. Such incidents may be direct or indirect, as determined by factors such as fear, anger, stress, paranoia, or chemical imbalance. One must determine if the situation or behavior being displayed is a result of personality style or the current situation and/or environment. However, dealing with the situation intuitively increases the probability of a safe and calm response, and is therefore often the best approach.
Risk reduction guidelines
Before a student begins field placement, the field instructor should familiarize the student with conditions at the site. Discussion should focus on risk management, safety procedures, and methods for assessing and attending to potentially dangerous situations. If the field instructor does not do this, students should request it.
Risk reduction strategies should
- Protect all parties involved (i.e., the client(s), staff, yourself).
- Help the client(s) gain some control, with the least amount of shame or guilt.
- Help the client(s) understand the reasons for their behavior; and
- Help the client(s) express feelings, thoughts, and emotions in an appropriate manner.
General risk reduction guidelines
- Walk with a sense of purpose and confidence.
- Be alert and aware of people around you keep a safe distance and keep moving.
- Avoid the side of the street where people are loitering.
- Be aware of safe places that could be used for refuge in case of an emergency (i.e., a store, a library, a school, or a workout facility).
- Conceal purse or bag or secure it to shoulder.
- Wear sensible, appropriate, and comfortable clothing with minimal or no jewelry.
- Assess multi-story buildings for safety. Be aware of suspicious individuals in stairwells; notice how far apart exits are on the stairwell and pull a fire alarm or emergency lever if needed. Be aware of suspicious individuals on elevators and exit the elevator if possible; if accosted while in the elevator, push all buttons.
General risk reduction guidelines while at field placement
- Respect realistic limitations and boundaries. Listen to your gut instinct and know when to stay and when to leave.
- Keep your work area neat. If working with a potentially aggressive client, be sure to keep items that could potentially be used as weapons out of sight (i.e., scissors, hot liquids, disinfectant spray).
- Alert staff members if you anticipate that you might need assistance before entering a crisis, or potentially dangerous situation.
- Stay calm. Talk in a normal tone and avoid emotional or aggressive responses, threats, or commands. Allow the client(s) appropriate choices or practical rationale.
- Take a non-threatening, but protected stance/posture; stand slightly sideways to the individual beyond arm's reach with your arms held near the upper body; break eye contact occasionally.
- Don't walk away from an escalating client. Acknowledge his/her feelings and attempt to calmly discuss the situation. Involve the staff member with the most therapeutic rapport to work one-on-one with the client.
- Avoid sudden movements or commands.
- Contact emergency services if needed.
What to do if attacked or seriously threatened while at field placement
- Follow agency procedure to handle the immediate situation; debrief with field instructor/task supervisor.
- Get medical attention if needed.
- Notify the School of Social Work's Office of Field Education.
- Realize that a physical attack or threatening behavior is frightening and seek assistance if needed.
All BSW and MSW students are expected to attend a safety workshop prior to starting the first field placement. The workshop is designed to increase awareness of behaviors which promote safety and help avoid unsafe situations. It is designed especially for social-work students and is presented by police officers from the university's Department of Public Safety. Sessions are scheduled throughout the fall semester. Some of the topics discussed are home visits, handling agitated clients, and agency safety techniques, as well as campus safety protocol. Students will be notified by the school's Office of Admissions and Student Services of planned safety workshops coinciding with orientation events.
The safety checklist includes numerous topics pertaining to agency procedures, operations, guidelines, and policies relating to safety and precautionary measures. To ensure important material is discussed before starting field placement, students may want to give a copy to their field instructor. Field instructors should discuss the material included on the safety checklist as part of orientation for new students. If the field instructor does not provide such an orientation, students should ask to review the safety checklist with the field instructor.