How Situational Awareness Protects Social Workers

Social workers deal with individuals in crisis situations every day, which can create potentially difficult and contentious situations. Sometimes it is directly related to the mental health issues of the client, but not always. Whether the client is mentally stable or not, when a person is facing a difficult time in their life, stress can be ratcheted up to out-of-control levels. This opens the door to irrational behavior and in some cases violence.

The best “protection” is always prevention, so the best course of action for a social worker is to be prepared for the worst and always stay in touch with their environment. This is where situational awareness comes into play.

Situational awareness is the ability to:

  1. Observe
  2. Orient
  3. Decide
  4. Act

When a social worker practices situational awareness, they are equipped with the knowledge, awareness and skills to provide services for at-risk individuals while maintaining self-safety within the work environment.

Learning to Trust Your Intuition

The term paranoid immediately triggers a negative character trait. However, when your work environment has the potential for violence, like that of social workers, a little paranoia can be a good thing. In the world of situational awareness this is where tuning into your gut instincts or intuition becomes an essential safety trait.

“If something doesn’t feel right, most likely it isn’t!”

Social workers need to aware of the mood and physical signs their clients present during a client meeting. In some cases, these indicators can be picked up over the phone, email or handwritten correspondence prior to the meeting. The important thing is for the social worker to be aware and alert of any signals of potential violence.

If something strikes them as out of place or if the behavior of the client is a bit “off”, the social worker must take the next step and be prepared for the worst. If not, the social worker might end up as a victim of violence which ended Terri Zenner’s life during an at-home visit in 2004.

Watch for Environmental Cues

Acknowledge the potential for violence or assault and learn how to see the warning signs and de-escalate a volatile situation. Listed below are examples of how a social worker can be aware of their environment to potentially prevent tragedy for themselves or their client.

  • Watch for pre-attack indicators (i.e. notable changes in the client’s personality, or substance abuse)
  • Make sure the immediate environment is free of potential weapons (i.e. don’t keep sharp items such as scissors on your desk during a client meeting)
  • Know your exits
  • Ensure your client feels “safe” by never cornering your client or keeping them from leaving
  • Don’t let down your guard by being consumed with being liked
  • Always be prepared for “what-if” situations, by taking time to think through potential scenarios before client meetings

Situational awareness empowers social workers to be their own best advocates for safety. Social workers can stop tragedy in its tracks by adopting a constant state of alertness and readiness for whatever situation might come their way.

SACS Consulting Provides Street Smarts Training for Social Workers

SACS Consulting trainers provides unique insight to social workers to learn new ways of thinking and behaving that will help them from becoming a target of physical and/or fatal assaults. Contact or call 330-255-1101 to speak with one of our training professionals today to schedule your Street Smarts for Social Workers training today!