Dealing with challenging or aggressive clients

 Dealing with challenging or aggressive behaviour

In some industries, including health, community and employment services, workers may be in contact with clients who are confused, unwell and/or under the influence of alcohol and drugs including ‘ice’ (Crystal Methamphetamine).

Employees may be at risk of injury or harm from intimidating, frightening, threatening, offensive or physically dangerous people while at the workplace or other locations such as client’s homes.

Aggressive behaviour triggers

Handling the emotional, physical and mental demands of a person can be very challenging.

The circumstances that result in incidences of challenging behaviour may be unique and there may be a number and range of contributory factors including;

  • Unfamiliar environment and people
  • Substance use
  • Unmet needs
  • Mental health issues
  • Legal stresses
  • Family issues (divorce / separation , custody)
  • Feeling frightened or humiliated
  • Grief or loss
  • Feeling frustrated at being unable to understand others or make themselves understood
  • Noise, light and glare

Crystal Methamphetamine users are prone to panic attacks. Signs of this can include shaking and sweating, increased heart rate, chest pains and difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches and seeming to be ‘spaced out’.  They can also be paranoid, have irrational thoughts and mood swings.

An individual is 6 times more likely to show violent behaviours when they are affected by Methamphetamine than non-users. Heavy use of alcohol while taking Methamphetamine will also significantly increase the potential of violence.

How to reduce the risk of violent and aggressive behaviour?

First consider the number one rule: Past Behaviour is the Best Predictor of Future Behaviour.

Plan your engagement with clients and carefully consider the information you have; read file notes and speak with other team members to gain knowledge about past incidents, tendencies, diagnosis of conduct / personality disorder, drug use, etc.

  • Remove dangerous combinations such as;
    • Isolated office / place of contact
    • Young / inexperienced staff
    • Lack of training
  • Train your employees to watch out for warning signs, such as anxious or agitated behaviour or restlessness, and how to take appropriate actions
  • Train your employees to avoid anything which could be antagonizing the issue. This could be a procedure, other people, equipment or even noise, light or glare
  • Do joint visits / appointments when meeting clients who are:
    • New assessments, unless negligible risk has already been identified
    • Identified as a risk through risk assessment

Also consider the layout of your office, to ensure that your employees have easy escape routes (they should be the closest to the door). Duress alarms and procedural training are also recommended.

Protect the mental health of employees by offering debriefing and counselling services on a regular basis and when there has been an incident. Encouraging them to maintain a healthy lifestyle will also help.

Advice from Cracks in the Ice.orgIf someone you suspect is using ice becomes violent and aggressive, here are some steps to take:

  • Try to remain calm, and speak in a calm, clear, and slow voice to the person. Try to avoid emotional or hostile language, which may prompt or exacerbate aggression. Say the person’s name, and reassure them that you are there to help. An example might be “I can see how upset and angry you are right now, [person’s name]. I don’t mean to upset you, I care about you, and I just want to help you.” Other options include “how can I help you feel safe?”, “your behaviour is frightening me at the moment, and I’d really like to help.”
  • Use an ‘open’ non-confrontational body stance, arms open, palms up, head lowered.
  • Give the person some physical space to minimise their feelings of confinement. If possible, remove furniture or fittings that might be thrown from the person’s immediate path. Turn down the lights as people using ice are generally overstimulated, and this may help prevent further stimulation. Explain what you are doing, e.g., “I am just moving some things out of your way, so that you don’t hurt yourself.”
  • Give the person time to think and respond. Slow things down as much as possible. When they speak, listen to what they say, agree with them or validate their feelings (e.g., “that must be really upsetting” or “if that happened to me, I’d feel the same way”). You don’t have to agree with the content of what they are saying, but you can focus on the obvious emotions that the person is displaying and respond to those.
  • If the behaviour intensifies, give the person a choice to help them feel like they are still in control. For example, “if you continue like this, I’ll have to leave and call the police. But if you calm down, maybe we can find another way to help.”
  • If at any stage you feel like you need to leave, do so. Call the police (000) for help, and remove yourself from the situation. This is especially the case if your exit is blocked, if the person is already too hostile, unstable, fearful, or intoxicated to respond to you, is threatening you or others, or has a weapon.

Preparing workers starts with their Employee Induction

While it is difficult to completely eliminate the risks within the health, community and employment services industries, strong systems and processes, including a solid induction training program will have a large effect on the probability of an accident or incident happening.

A well-structured induction program is one of the most effective and efficient ways to bring your new recruits up to speed on safe work methods.  Employees learn the right way of doing things from the beginning, minimising the risk of costly mistakes, while increasing productivity.

TANDI Online Induction training is a safe and economical way to manage your new employee induction training. We can create customised employee training just for your organisation and you will find our training tracking software, a great tool for managing your employee training.

Find out how you can induct & train your new workforce fast online here or check out TANDI’s low cost pricing here.

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