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The Real Purpose of Security

There is a lot of misunderstanding in the veterinary profession about security and violence prevention. Some folks believe the veterinary practice is not a high risk target for violence and therefore security measures are not warranted. Some believe that the addition of security measures will give the practice a “fort-like” atmosphere. And still others believe that security precautions create too much of an inconvenience for the staff and are not worth the effort.

The reality is that most security procedures don’t cost a lot of money and integrate easily into everyday operations. And for those that believe the risk is not serious enough to warrant action, just do an internet search for “veterinary clinic assault” and you’ll be shocked at the number of news reports from all over the country!

The most effective and unobtrusive security program includes a “layered” approach. The four basic layers of security in a veterinary practice are:

Procedures. When we concentrate on getting the job done, we sometimes forget about other things. That’s human nature. But humans also operate on a level that is basically a set of habits. If we establish procedures for security as part of the everyday operating protocol, the staff is more likely to follow them.

In most cases where violence in the workplace happens, the investigation usually reveals that a key procedural safeguard was bypassed or omitted. Therefore procedural policies must be reinforced by leadership with actions such as discipline when violations occur.

Procedural security includes things like keeping doors locked when necessary, counting the day’s receipts away from the front desk, and establishing a safety routine for when folks must work alone.

Physical Barriers. A locked door is often the best defense against someone trying to hurt you. In general, the protective “barrier” around the whole practice is the facility with supervised, controlled entrance points. Inside the building, there should be designated “safe rooms” throughout the facility that can be used in case another employee or a visitor becomes violent. Safe rooms should have a sturdy, lockable door (preferably swinging outward of the room) and access to a telephone so that staff members can barricade themselves inside and summon assistance.

Physical barriers are the primary prevention and defense tool in your arsenal, but a door or a lock is of no use if it isn’t used properly and consistently!

Early Warning. Using door chimes and even cameras to alert the staff that someone has entered their “protected zone.” Although this is not a replacement for physical barriers, having just a few seconds advance warning of impending violence may make the difference between an incident and and tragedy!

Summoning Assistance. If all the precautions fail, there has to be a way for the staff to summon assistance quickly and easily. In some cases, the telephone is adequate, but in high risk situations, there may be a need for more.

And security isn’t just to keep people out of the practice. By some accounts, as much as 10% of “losses” in a veterinary practice are the result of employee theft. That isn’t to say that all employees are dishonest, but it’s a fact that some people will take things that don’t belong to them if given the chance.  Security must address both external and internal risks.

Some security precautions are visible to clients and the general public as a deterrent to crime...things like cameras and signs. But some security procedures like training and background checks are “transparent” in an attempt to avoid problems or prevent them from escalating when they do happen.

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Did You Know...?

According to an INC. magazine article, it's a myth that newer employees commit employee theft, while senior employees can be trusted.  Likewise, it's a myth that well-paid employees are less likely to steal than ones paid minimum wage.

According to the article, the OPPORTUNITY to steal is more of a factor than the need for money.