Paid and unpaid staff safety takes many forms in a community-serving nonprofit. From a thorough orientation program to “on-the-job” training, careful supervision and incident follow-up, nonprofits have various opportunities to help their staff stay safe. Savvy employees have little difficulty providing goods and services to clients who reside or congregate in high-crime areas. Keeping the less-than-savvy safe in unfamiliar neighborhoods requires forethought and education.
Do not assume that you know what your employees or volunteers are worried about or afraid of. Ask them to tell you, or you’ll run the risk of solving a problem that doesn’t exist. For instance, you may think they’re concerned about getting lost in unfamiliar territory when they’re worried about road rage on the highway. Or, you may think they are anxious about being hurt in a client’s home, but they are worried about being accused of theft or contracting a disease. Or you may be worried about their obligation to report abuse or contraband, while they’re more worried about their personal safety if they report it.
Invest the time to find out what worries and fears your employees and volunteers have so that your risk management plan can address the real issues not those you imagine.
Once you have identified their concerns, you can brainstorm some solutions as a group. The purpose of this exercise is to list as many ideas as possible as quickly as possible. Remember when you brainstorm you list every idea, repetition is OK, and judging others’ ideas is not OK. (There will be plenty of time to analyze suggestions, but that is the next step.) Limit the exercise to 15 or 20 minutes. The group can then review the list to determine which ideas would be the most effective, which are affordable and which ones just give you a good laugh.
For instance, volunteers for a nonprofit that sends personnel into the community to interview clients might express fear of being attacked and injured by an angry family member. One statewide group equips each volunteer with a cell phone for their own protection and peace of mind. This is the high end of the solution spectrum. At the other end would be providing personal safety courses to help volunteers and employees be alert and aware of their surroundings. This training could be found inexpensively or perhaps pro bono.
In general, it is wise to review basic safety precautions with your employees and volunteers who will be traveling into unknown and potentially risky territory to deliver services or conduct other mission-critical activities. These reminders may seem old hat to some and others may never have thought to consider them. By instructing everyone at the same time, you make certain the rules of the street savvy have been reviewed, and everyone’s operating under the same guidelines.
We offer the following checklists for consideration when you are concerned about staff working in the field.
Forewarned is forearmed. If employees and volunteers stay aware, trust their intuition, protect their personal space, and maintain a degree of healthy distrust, they will be less of a target. Knowing how to make themselves less of a target will reduce the risk that your staff will come to harm while traveling to and from service assignments.