Personal Safety for Visiting Professionals
Visiting Professional?" What's that?
In the course of their employment, many professionals make visits to citizens, clients or customers homes to provide services, make sales or check clients welfare. Visiting nurses, police officers, DCF workers, social workers, house cleaners, firemen, EMT's, door to door salesmen, real estate salesmen, are just some examples of such occupations.
Do they need to be Safety Conscious?
On January 4th, 2001, a Real Estate agent in Washington State was showing a home to a potential buyer who walked with a cane and appeared handicapped. No one else was with them! At some point, the potential buyer changed to a murderer and thief when he stabbed the agent 19 times for no reason. This incident shocked the Real Estate world and led to the formation of the Real Estate Safety Council of Washington State which now prints a Real Estate Personal Safety Guide called "Be On The Safe Side!" Many other Agencies have since followed suit. The British Journal of Psychiatry also publishes a guide called "Personal Safety when visiting patients in the community." In the world in which we live, personal safety should be the foremost thought on everyone's mind.
Here are some Personal Safety Tips to consider before, during and after making home visits related to your occupation.
Before you leave the Office:
1. Make others aware of your schedule.
2. Keep your client file addresses updated.
3. Ask for precise driving directions and consult a map to be sure of your route.
4. Contact the client ahead of time so that they will be watching for your arrival.
5. If the visit is in an unfamiliar location, ask co-workers familiar with the location to brief you on any hazards or risks.
Nearing, At or In Your Car:
1. Be sure to look under as you approach and look in the back seat before getting in to your car.
2. Keep your car in good working order and make sure you have enough gas to get you through the day.
3. Be aware of dead end streets.
4. Lock your car doors as you travel and keep the windows up at all times.
5. Keep your valuables out of sight.
6. Avoid rubble and broken glass that can flatten your tires and immobilize you.
7. Choose a parking space that is well lit or that offers the safest walking route.
8. Try to park your car where you can see it from inside the home as you do the visit.
9. To lessen the chance of being blocked in when leaving, don't park in a driveway.
10. Park facing in the direction you want to go when leaving the home.
In the Community:
1. Work with a partner whenever possible.
2. Be alert and observant. Be conscious of your immediate environment.
3. Walk confidently and purposefully.
4. Arrange your schedule so that you can make new or questionable visits early in the day to be less likely to find loiterers and illegal activities.
5. Wear shoes and clothing that makes it easier to move quickly if you need to.
6. Carry a minimal amount of money, your drivers license, cell phone and your keys on your person, not in a purse.
7. Try to avoid carrying a purse while in the field. If not possible, lock your purse in the trunk before leaving the office.
8. Look for public telephones. You don't need any money to dial 9-1-1.
9. Call the office at scheduled times to let people know you are safe.
10. In public housing and high rise tenements, make yourself known to security, management or businesses.
Approaching the Dwelling:
1. Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable, leave and report the circumstances to your supervisor.
2. Drive around the area looking for unsafe conditions like: poor lighting, limited visibility due to fences, trees or bushes, unsecured animals, people yelling, drinking, fighting or loitering. Also, look for sources of help like: pay phones,neighbors at home, open businesses, utility trucks and police and fire stations or officers.
3. If you find you have an incorrect address, call the office. Don't go knocking on starnge doors.
4. If you suspect you are being followed by someone on foot, enter the closest public space. If a car is following you, turn around, walk in the opposite direction.
5. If people are loitering, walk around them or cross the street to avoid them.
6. If you are verbally confronted, maintain a professional manner. Don't attempt to answer verbal challenges.
7. Use empty elevators when possible. Always stand next to the door and the control panel. If you have a problem, push all the buttons to provide a better chance of escape.
8. Press the floor number yourself. Don't ask someone to do it for you. If someone suspicious gets on the elevator while you're on it, get off as soon as possible.
At the Dwelling
1. Pay attention to signs like: "Beware of the Dog" or "No Tresspassing" which may be indicators of the occupants attitudes towards strangers.
2. Immediately report any incident that makes you uncomfortable to supervisor.
3. Pause at the door and listen before knocking. If you hear fighting or loud quarreling, leave immediately.
4. If an unfamiliar person answers the door, find out if the client is home before entering. Don't enter a home when you suspect an unsafe condition exists.
5. If you decide it is safe to enter, don't let your guard down. Be alert to signs of violence or sexual advances from the client or family members.
6. Make a note of other entrances/exits and where the telephone is located.
7. If other people are present that you feel are a danger, reschedule the visit.
8. Be aware of traffic going in and out.
9. Note if pets are present and ask that they be put in another room during the visit.
10. Don't go in to a dark room, basement or attic first. Follow, never lead, even if you've been to the house before.
11. If you need to retrieve something from outside, knock again or say "Hello" when you re-enter.
12. When sitting, choose a hard chair to be able to get up more quickly.
13. Sit with your back to a solid wall as close to an entrance/exit as possible.
Dealing with Hostile/Angry Clients:
Clients can often react in anger because of difficulty in finding help with their situations, emotional pain or discomfort, or fear and anxiety about your visit.
1. React and respond to a client in a calm firm professional manner.
2. To help the client define their anger, verbally acknowledge it. "I understand that you are upset" or "It sounds like you're really upset about this."
3. Reinforce the positive long-term benefits of your assistance,your commitment to their best interests, and your role.
4. Lower voice volume to calm the client.
5. Encourage the client to sit down.
6. Rehearse ahead of time what you would say or do in certain situations.
7. Telephone the office to indicate a problem to a co-worker by using a code word or phrase like "I'm at the Jones House and I need the Red File".
The 10 Second Rule for Personal Safety
1. Take 2 seconds when you arrive at a destination to check: neighborhood activity, parking, blocked in…?
2. Take 2 seconds when you step out of your car to check: suspicious people around, do you know where to go…?
3. Take 2 seconds as you walk to check: are people walking around, hiding places, loiterers, obstacles, is it quiet…?
4. Take 2 seconds at the door to check: is someone following you, uneasy feeling…?
5. Take 2 seconds as you enter to check: anything out of place, unexpected persons present…?
6. If any situation appears dangerous,leave immediately and call 9-1-1.