Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
What is safeguarding in the workplace?
In this article, we’ll explore safeguarding in the workplace and some relevant scenarios.
When we talk about safeguarding, we often refer to children and vulnerable adults. As a result, we think about the safeguarding requirements of schools, care homes and any places where there are typically at-risk people. However, many workplaces see day-to-day interactions with both children and vulnerable adults, these could be restaurants, government bureaus and leisure centres for example.
We must also consider that there can be safeguarding issues within various workplace relationships. For example, whilst the above may refer to a user/service provider relationship, the power dynamic of manager over employee could also lead to problems.
As a side note, we must recognise the sheer amount of possible workplaces with safeguarding responsibilities. As such, we can only provide advice, alongside a few relevant case studies. To properly practice safeguarding in your workplace, you should consider the recommendations in this article within your own individual context.
What is safeguarding?
Whilst you can technically safeguard anyone, as we all have moments in which we are physically, mentally, or emotionally vulnerable, safeguarding most often refers to children and adults who need consistent care. Most often, we divide safeguarding into two areas:
- Safeguarding against Abuse – This refers to active physical, verbal, mental and/or emotional harm of a vulnerable child or adult. Someone may abuse a confused elderly person by accessing their bank accounts often ostensibly to help the victim. Children are sometimes physically abused by parents or caregivers. These are just a couple of examples of active abuse against vulnerable people.
- Safeguarding against Neglect – When someone does not fulfil their duty of care to a vulnerable person, ‘passively’ harming them, this is neglect. Examples of this include giving vulnerable people unhealthy foods, not administering their medication, allowing them to live in a hazardous environment or not helping them maintain basic hygiene.
How can you follow good practices for safeguarding in the workplace?
Now that we have a basic understanding of what safeguarding prevents, let’s consider a few possible scenarios in some conventional workplaces.
Cafés and restaurants
In most workplaces there could be several different instigators of abuse or neglect against vulnerable people, including your employees and customers. For example, a waiter or chef in a restaurant may not take seriously the dietary requirements of a vulnerable customer, choosing instead to serve an easier meal. A customer may come in with a child and order either an inappropriate meal for them or perhaps nothing at all.
These are complex situations to address. Whilst you can educate your staff better, you can’t force a customer to order anything; in fact, the child may have just eaten, or isn’t hungry. It’s very difficult to know. That’s why part of safeguarding is assessment, rather than taking action. If a parent comes in twice a week and doesn’t feed a hungry-looking child, you may consider talking to them about it or following it up.
Safeguarding is also an absolute necessity in government offices. With funding low and demand for results high, neglect may be rife. For example, a vulnerable and/or disabled adult in a UK job centre may come looking for work. A job centre employee, tired and overworked, may send them to any interview because they need someone to fill a position or achieve a target. Such a job may be unsuitable for that vulnerable person’s needs.
This is particularly conceivable in government services because there is no fee involved; these government bureaus are free for citizens and residents of a country but subsequently often underfunded. If an elderly person contacts the pensions department, for example, they may not be able to deal with the mental stress and depth of information they’re required to take in. Workers may become impatient or simply not explain the information in sufficient detail, from which the vulnerable person may suffer financially.
Let’s say you work in, manage, or own a shop or supermarket which sells a wide variety of products. If children regularly enter the premises after school, you need to be aware of their physical safety. You can’t leave box cutters about, heavy objects that could topple on them or anything they might injure themselves with.
Similarly, your staff should be trained to properly ID young people when buying alcohol and other over-18 products. Whilst they’re not your constant responsibility, when they’re in your shop you have a duty to protect them from harm.
What if a vulnerable adult enters your shop who has difficulty counting money? The wrong staff may ignore or even take advantage of the situation, choosing to take any extra money a customer may pay for an item. Though this kind of scenario is uncommon, it’s definitely feasible.
Day-to-day, the typical office may not really seem a place to be overly-concerned about safeguarding, since most people of working age or capacity aren’t vulnerable. Children often don’t come into the office either. However, this does not mean we can disregard safeguarding duties.
Firstly, workplaces must safeguard any employees with disabilities. It is neglectful to not cater for those employees, perhaps by installing wheelchair ramps, strobe fire alarms or any such accessibility infrastructure.
In addition, we must consider the psychological toll possibly faced by people with disabilities in the office. 1 in 3 people consider disabled people to inevitably be less productive than non-disabled people. To adapt to this bias, employees with disabilities may feel the need to complain less, take more abuse without complaint and generally seem ‘grateful’ for their position. Obviously this is not the case and is an attitude you should look to stamp out in your workplace, if it were to arise.
What’s more, your office must be safe for anyone at any time, not just during the typical workday. Accountants have a huge responsibility for people’s finances and more so when people have a diminished mental capacity; someone could quite easily siphon money from a vulnerable adult’s account without them noticing. Such a person of power may dictate and control someone’s financial choices too.
You must also consider the manager-employee relationship. Apprentices or any young person in an office may not have the experience to know what counts as abuse. Perhaps the manager asks them to work unhealthy hours, perform dangerous tasks or verbally abuses them when they make mistakes. Young people and vulnerable adults can both suffer from this kind of abuse, when they do not have the experience or knowledge to understand that they are being maltreated.
Legal frameworks for safeguarding
It’s difficult to know exactly what legislative requirements you have for safeguarding in conventional workplaces. ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’ is a piece of legislation explicitly tailored to schools. There is no such document for the local estate agents’ office.
However, there are some pieces of legislation which you may turn to for more information. The Children Act 1989 establishes the expectations and requirements of duties of care towards children; the government also offers guidance to anyone who encounters children in the workplace and suspects they’re being abused.
For vulnerable adults, the Care Act 2014 is most relevant.
These pieces of legislation can instruct you on your responsibilities, legally and morally, and how to take action when certain safeguarding situations arise.
How can you create a good platform for safeguarding in the workplace?
If you have concerns about safeguarding in your workplace, consider training your staff.
At Smart Horizons, we offer safeguarding courses for a variety of different workplaces. Our general Safeguarding Children online training course is the best place to start. It offers a comprehensive knowledge of safeguarding best practices, designed for anyone who comes into contact with vulnerable adults and children in their workplace.