I was asked “When do we abandon what we are taught in training to makes sure someone is kept safe?” This instructor had a real-life example of a staff who received a lifelong disability because other staff refused to go hands on when a client was crushing the staff’s skull. The organization had no touch policies. Obviously, we do not want to get staff hurt by having staff doing nothing when training does not cover the immediate safety needs.

We openly admit that we are not lawyers and we cannot give legal advice but we can give guidance based on our history of working with aggression and violence. When a threat of harm is believable, the attacker can carry out the harm and when the potential for harm is immediate, we should intervene to protect using the least amount necessary for safety. If the way of intervening has not been covered in training, we must make a personal choice. Do I use my knowledge of the training I have received to modify what I have been taught to try and provide safety? Do I simply leave my co-worker to fend for themselves? Am I aware of my limitations in helping and do I seek out someone who may be better equipped to help?

Back in the late 80’s I was attacked and found myself on the losing end. The staff I was working with knew her limitations and understood attempting to help by herself would have potentially gotten herself hurt as well. She ran to another unit, got help and returned. Though during the time of her absence, I did receive some further injuries, the choice she made was a good one. The help she got came in and managed the situation safely without further injuries.

Ultimately, the legal understanding of these situations is judged first by what is the person’s duty of care. This means what is our obligation to provide care similar to what other professionals would do under similar or like circumstances. Policies and training would fall into this first line of duty of care. However, when training for a particular incident does not cover a safety need, a reasonable person standard test is applied.

Reasonableness is the idea that a reasonable person would observe standards based on a particular set of circumstances and that others would reasonably be expected to do the same thing given the same set of circumstances. Ultimately, this means that responses from one person may be different than responses from another but the courts may determine the response to be reasonable given the particular set of circumstances. This takes us back to making a personal choice and understanding that in the end courts determine whether or not it was the right choice given the circumstances.

Any action or lack of action can and will be judged. This judgement, however, is determined ultimately by legal systems not vendors of training or even organizational policies. If you do what you feel is best given the circumstances at the time for maximum safety of those involved you should be able to live with those choices even if outcomes do not go well. Ultimately, we all must live with the choices we make whether they are guided by policy or just good personal ethics around doing the right thing.

Tim Geel – SVP Instruction & Organizational Development