Compass Housing Services Co Limited (Compass) is an enterprising and socially committed international NGO that provides social and affordable housing for low to moderate income households. With almost 6900 properties under management, Compass is one of the largest nongovernment providers of subsidised housing in Australia. Community housing is about much more than providing accommodation for Compass. Their business is also about building communities. Their vision is for a world in which all people have access to safe, affordable and adequate housing and are actively engaged in their communities. In pursuit of that goal, Compass has developed an approach to service delivery which integrates tenancy and property management within a broader network of services and maximises opportunities for tenants to increase their economic and social participation. While providing housing is their core business, Compass is also an increasingly powerful advocate for structural reform to Australia’s housing system. Underpinning the company vision is the belief that safe and adequate housing is a basic human right. As promoters of the right to housing, they produce innovative research papers and participate in cross sectoral campaigns and lobbying to help bring about a more equitable housing system that meets the needs of all Australians.
Compass takes an organisational wide and systematic approach to workplace health and safety (WHS) management in order to minimise the risks to their workforce and to ensure workers have the safety tools they require to undertake their duties safely and with confidence. The company’s safety approach is founded on continuous improvement where feedback from workers and WHS committee members is utilised to manage and improve safety related outcomes and builds on existing health and safety processes. Compass ensures they integrate these improvements into their other management systems which provides for more informed decision making, strengthens their safety culture and demonstrates due diligence and legislative compliance. Compass is committed to embedding safety practices into their workplace culture and recognises safety is one of the key drivers to sustain employee engagement. Therefore, through increased employee collaboration and consultation they focus on the development and continuous improvement of work, health & safety strategies which provide a platform for a safer place to work. As a Community Housing provider, Compass work with a varied tenant base many of whom have a diverse range of complex needs. The frontline workers are required to attend people’s homes to undertake property viewings, routine property inspections, welfare checks and to complete maintenance works. Due to the complex needs of their tenants, the nature of the work undertaken and at times the changing and dynamic work environment which can introduce unknown risks/hazards, Compass’ frontline workers are at times met with aggressive and/or volatile situations. With this in mind and in line with the company’s strong commitment to workplace safety and continuous improvement, Compass partnered with local company ACIM Solutions to develop a tailored Occupational Violence Prevention (OVP) program. This program focused on building the capability and confidence of their frontline workers to manage heightened situations and varied situational environments constructively and to develop communication and risk management skills to prevent and respond to aggressive interactions if and when they occurred both out in the field and over the phone.
In 2014 Compass identified a gap in the de-escalation skills of our frontline employees which resulted in Compass working with Lifeline to design a 4-hour Safety Planning and Response (SPAR) workshop. The SPAR program provides de-escalation training for frontline workers combining modules from the Accidental Counsellor training. This includes understanding conflict, dealing with difficult Clients and professional boundaries and self-care. The SPAR program also uses targeted communication skills to build relationships and respond effectively to behaviours of concern. Following a review of the company’s WHS incident statistics for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 financial years it was identified Aggression and Hostility Towards Workers was trending as the highest incident type reported by workers which was of concern. The upward trend suggested that the SPAR training being provided was inadequate in providing our frontline workers with de-escalation skills to effectively manage conflict and potentially hostile situations while in the field. Compass’s new de-escalation training program increased from a 4-hours workshop to a full day training and utilised a range of training methods including theory-based learning, customised case studies/scenarios as well as hands-on practical activities to ensure the new skills were embedded and workers were able to apply these skills when out in the field. To ensure the new Occupational Violence Prevention (OVP) program met the key learning objectives and addressed the gaps identified in the previous SPAR training, Compass’ training officer consulted closely with key operational workers and ACIM Solutions to develop interactive scenarios and role plays to incorporate in the training.
The success of the OVP program has been measured through training evaluation feedback. Following the training, staff complete a survey through survey monkey to provide feedback on the training. To date, the training has been delivered to 135 frontline workers across 9 office locations. Feedback from the initial training sessions has been that workers feel more confident in understanding risk, applying de-escalation communication techniques and managing heightened situations which has assisted them in how they approach their work in the field. Further workers state they have enjoyed the interactive nature of the training and the inclusion of practical activities throughout the day. The OVP program now forms part of Compass’ mandatory training curriculum for all new frontline staff.