Tips for workers, bystanders when emotions run high

Now that we all have to show ID at the door to enter anywhere (I'm exaggerating), I was asked to look at the safety side of dealing with conflict, for those who need to check our ID and the issue of whether or not a bystander should help.

I don't have to tell you that we're living in difficult times. It's a good time to be a social anthropologist. I'm sure those people are fully employed right now, trying to figure out ways for us to be nice to one another.

Refusing service to a customer at a business is a new task that frontline employees are not trained to perform. I worked in a restaurant in my 20s, and on a couple of occasions I had to insist that rowdy people leave the premises. When you're young and not trained for this, it's a hard thing.

Many years ago, I was stuck in an hour of traffic on Halifax's Quinpool Road, going two miles an hour, heading toward the Armdale rotary, and I realized that I was in the wrong lane. This is never a good thing, so I signalled to change lanes. A police car beside me rolled down the window and the officer said, "Stay in that lane!" So, I stayed in the lane.

When you have authority, people listen to you; there are consequences to not doing so. If the other driver was just anybody, I would have ignored them and called it "road rage, which wasn't a term back then.

In the health and safety biz the Behaviour-Based Safety model (BBS) is a theory that basically says don't worry about WHY someone does something safely, just observe WHAT they do. This is a "black box approach." For example, your smartphone is a black box; you don't care what goes on inside of it, as long as when you ask it to do something, it does it.

The BBS model works by identifying observable safe behaviours on the upstream side of a process, which are called antecedents or activators, then it provides consequences for those behaviours.

Safe behaviors get rewarded and unsafe behaviours get punished. The idea is that safe behaviours get rewarded immediately, which reinforces the behaviour, and unsafe behaviours get punished immediately, which discourages them. It's based on "behaviorism," a psychological theory developed by B.F. Skinner, and it's all about immediate responses.

This is the theory that some companies rely on because it gets quick results in the short term, but people are more complex than a simple model so it doesn't always work as planned.

Getting back to the original issue, should a bystander step in to assist a 20-year-old server at a restaurant who is dealing with an angry customer being denied service. This is an emotion-charged situation, and it can be a dangerous thing, so think carefully before you act. You don't want any possible aggression focused on you.

I met a security supervisor a couple years ago who was responsible for several Halifax bars. We discussed how bouncers do their job these days; he said things are much different that in the past.

A typical scenario (when someone needs to be removed from the premises) is that a minimum of four security staff are involved, with others out of view but ready to assist. One discretely approaches the person alone and politely suggests that they've consumed a bit much and it's probably a good idea to call it a night and that he has a cab waiting to take them home. Then he leads the whole closely-packed party outside, confirms the person's address and puts them into the cab and pays the driver.

He said there is rarely a problem, since this approach is non-confrontational, and he has a team who are trained to deal with any issue. He said he also wears a body cam.

One recent article in Security Management Magazine, called "Giving Bystanders Options for Incident Intervention," describes five approaches (tools) that a bystander can use to assist the frontline workers, if they choose to do so. Most are non-confrontational: Distract - create a distraction by dropping something, like a cup of coffeeDelegate - ask others for help, including bus drivers or police officers or simply report the incident to security, etc.Document - record the incident on a smartphone for the victim to use as evidenceDelay - this happens after the incident, to tell the victim "I saw that," to reduce the trauma to the victimDirect - tell the offender to "He looks uncomfortable, why don't you give this guy some space?" This sets a boundary. Then focus on the victim.

Training around these techniques can be found on this website: https://www.ihollaback.org/bystanderintervention/

Like every other safety topic, I recommend doing a quick risk assessment before you act and be prepared physically and mentally. Having a team with you is not a bad idea either.

James Golemiec is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional with over nine years' experience coordinating and managing complex safety systems at manufacturing facilities and performing inspections on project job sites across Canada.

Thank you for printing this article from lighthousenow.ca. Subscribe today for access to all articles, including our archives!