Clinic safety expert offers four layers of protection and how to deal with confrontation.
Phil Seibert, CVT, clinic safety expert, SafetyVet consultant and author of The Veterinary Safety & Health Digest offers four layers of security to enhance veterinary clinic safety.
Seibert says veterinary practice owners have to get better about understanding the threat of violence at the workplace. Whether it’s an internal threat—more often incidents occur with someone we know—or external threats, preparation and prevention is essential.
Layer No. 1: Procedures
A veterinary practice must establish procedures for security as part of the everyday operating protocol, Seibert says. “The business has to say, ‘what are my security preparations?’” This includes keeping doors locked when necessary, counting the day’s receipts away from the desk and having a safety routine for those who must work alone.
Practices should also have a no harassment policy and a procedure to follow if someone feels like they’re being threatened. Seibert also warns of the risk owners face if they do not follow through with procedures if an individual threatens an employee. “If that person later harms the employee, the practice is going to have a huge liability.”
Layer No. 2: Physical barriers
Seibert says a locked door is often the best defense. While a practice can’t keep every door locked all the time, it can have supervised, controlled entrance points. During business hours, he suggests locking all doors besides the front door, but installing keyless locks on delivery doors and employee entrances to keep unauthorized people out while still allowing authorized people easy access. Seibert also says to avoid unintentionally allowing a threat into the practice. “Every door that goes outside should have a peep hole in it.”Know that after hours are extremely vulnerable. “The overwhelming majority of violence that occurs is when someone gains access to the facility when it’s closed but people are still at the facility,” Seibert says. Every practice should also have a designated safe room in case someone does enter the building. It should have a sturdy, lockable door and access to a telephone.
Layer No. 3: Early warning
“Cameras are cheap,” Seibert says. A real time monitoring system can make staff aware of a threat as early as possible. Ideally, there would be a camera in the reception area, back door and front entrance door. “If there’s a monitor in the activity center of the hospital, you can see when something’s going wrong.” According to Seibert, having a few seconds advance warning—even from a door chime—can make the difference between an incident and a tragedy.
Layer No. 4: Summoning assistance
In the case that all precautions fail, Seibert says there has to be a way for staff to summon assistance quickly and easily. “It’s got to be something simple,” he says. A phone may not always be accessible; panic buttons, an alarm system or even a pre-arranged code over the phone or intercom system may be good resources.
“When you’re confronted by someone who is being irrational because of emotions, logic is not going to help you,” Seibert says. If someone becomes confrontational, he suggests sympathizing with the person to diffuse the situation. Try to postpone the discussion to a time when they might be calmer.
Don’t argue. Ask, “What can I do that can make you happy?” Seibert says. There may not be anything you can do but listen to them vent. “It’s in nobody’s job description to be yelled at, but sometimes you need to let people vent,” he says.
The game changes however if harmless venting escalates. “If it’s an escalating situation, you want it to stay in public,” Seibert says. “You want the violent person to know there are a lot of other people around. That might keep them from going to that next step.” That means never taking the situation into an exam room, regardless of the extent of wanting to take it out of the reception area. If moved into another room, Siebert says to bring another employee. “Don’t ever do that alone—ever.”
“If you’re trying to be empathetic, but they’re being irrational, you need to have access to a door or put something in between you,” he says. “You also want to let them know there are boundaries.” He suggests even pulling a chair in front of you to lean on like you’re tired. It might give you a second advantage.
“Veterinarians are really ultra-concerned about making a client mad at them or anything to do with a client having bad feeling and leave. “That’s not a bad thing, but at some point in time if a client makes a threat or causes a scene at your practice, the practice has to—through an attorney—let them know they are no longer welcome at the practice.”