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Section 3.07.01: Guidelines for Risk Reduction

Field sites are expected to provide students with specific orientation to field placement policies and procedures regarding risk management and safety. If the field instructor does not provide this orientation, students must ask for it. Students should also learn about the fieldwork site's informal methods for assessing and handling risky situations.


Field Placement Safety Review
During the initial weeks in a field site, students are to become familiar with the safety aspects of their field site's culture and procedures that could affect an individual’s safety. Students should use the safety review form https://ssw.umich.edu/r/field-placement-safety-review with their field instructor or task supervisor and address areas that may be of potential risk to physical safety and health of the student, clients and colleagues.


Each situation is different, but the guidelines that follow may generally apply in the management of potentially dangerous situations:
- Appreciate realistic limitations. Be reasonable about what is and is not possible. Know when to stay and leave. A sound preventive approach is to avoid seeing clients with reputations for unprovoked assaults or those in acute paranoid psychotic distress in an empty office without back-up staff or security available.
- Keep your work area as safe as possible, keeping it clear of items which could be harmful to anyone involved in a physical intervention. For example, keep objects, which can be used as weapons (e.g., ashtrays, sharp objects, and a hot cup of coffee) away from potentially aggressive clients.
- When possible, alert available staff members that assistance may be needed before entering.
- Act calmly. Keep the scream out of your voice. An emotional or aggressive response to a distraught individual is likely to reinforce that person's aggression. Remember, clients and others who are violent are often reacting to feelings of helplessness and loss of control. Therefore, you need to be in control of the situation.
- Take a non-threatening posture to avoid appearing confrontational, but take a protected posture as well. This usually means standing slightly sideways to the individual, at a safe distance away from sudden lunges, punches, and kicks, with arms and hands held near the upper body for possible quick self-protection. Avoid a stare-down by periodically breaking eye contact.
- Don't walk away from the individual who is escalating. Acknowledge the individual's feelings and attempt to talk them down. Encouraging the individual to sit down may sufficiently delay or divert the possibility of attack. Usually, a one-to-one situation with available staff at a distance works well. The most appropriate staff member to be with the individual is the one who has the best rapport with them, not necessarily the staff with the most authority or rank.
- Observe the progress of the aggression and the stages of escalation. Identify those actions on your part which serve to calm and those which serve to inflame the individual, and act accordingly.
- Avoid sudden movements or the issuance of strident commands, as these may only inflame the individual. Whenever possible, allow the individual to make behavioral choices. Directives or alternatives should be stated concretely and in terms of actions, which can be performed immediately.
- Be direct and state clearly and specifically the required or prohibited behavior.
- Allow the individual to choose between two acceptable behavioral alternatives.
- Do not touch the individual unless you are willing to restrain them; and only when you have been trained by the field site and always act in a manner consistent with all field site protocols. Restraint should only be used as a last resort.

What to do if injured during field
- Follow field site procedures to manage the immediate situation and report the incident.
- Get any needed medical care, notify, and debrief with your field instructor.
- IMMEDIATELY report the incident to your field faculty and the assistant dean for field education in the Office of Field Education (734) 764-5331, the MSW program director (734) 764-5340 or the associate dean for educational programs (734) 763-5340.

Recognize that an injury or threatening behavior is frightening and that you may respond emotionally to the stress. Seek help if needed.

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