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Census Bureau Safety Tips for Workers

By Ed O'Keefe

The Census Bureau distributed excerpts from its instruction manual for field workers about safety training on Thursday following the death of Census Bureau employee William Sparkman Read the excerpts below:

Ensuring Your Personal Safety

• In addition to protecting the confidentiality of the data you collect, you should also take special care to ensure your personal safety. Your personal safety is of the utmost concern to the Census Bureau. As a field representative, you will visit sample units in different communities at unusual times. It is important that you know how to keep yourself safe in all types of conditions. When you go into the field, use the following list to apply good safety practices:

1. Wear your identification.
2. Be aware of your surroundings.
3. Trust your instincts.
4. Know whom to call in case of an emergency.
5. Let your Senior Field Representative know the general area where you will be working and how long you will be there.
6. Walk in lighted areas.
7. Remain calm if you encounter an agitated dog.
8. Identify yourself properly to curious neighbors and local authorities while maintaining respondents’ confidentiality.
9. Make your first visit to a new area during daylight hours.
10. Remove yourself immediately from any situation you feel is unsafe.
11. If you feel unsafe about entering a respondent’s home or a building or facility, do not go in.
12. Ask the respondent to expect you if you have an appointment, and to call your Regional Office if you do not call or arrive at that time.
13. Drive safely and responsibly – pull over to access your laptop or go through materials, not while you are driving.
14. Dress appropriately for the weather and environment.
15. Do not leave anything visible in your car.
16. Carry your car keys in your hand.
17. Plan for Emergencies -- take emergency contact numbers with you and keep them accessible. Pack an emergency kit for your car (this can include flares, hazard flags, a fire extinguisher, and extra money for gas).
18. Keep your car doors locked and wear your seat belt.
19. Lock your purse and personal belongings in the trunk of your car before going into an assignment area.
20. Call your supervisor if you feel uncomfortable about going into an assignment area.
21. Maintain a mannerism that says “I belong here” as opposed to one that may indicate “I shouldn’t be here or I’m afraid.”
22. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes so that you may leave an area quickly or not create an unsafe situation.
23. Do not wear expensive jewelry.
24. Park your car in a safe area.
25. Refresh your memory about your personal safety plan so that if you encounter a bad situation you can act immediately and automatically.

Responding to Angry or Hostile Respondents

• Strategies for dealing with angry or hostile respondents:

-- Allow respondents to vent; listen without interrupting: When you encounter an angry or hostile respondent, let him or her vent. Even though this may make you feel uncomfortable, do not interrupt the respondent. Just listen.

-- Use active listening strategies: After the respondent is finished venting, use active listening and demonstrate that you hear what the respondent is saying.

-- Empathize with the respondent: Empathizing makes respondents feel you were really listening, which can reduce their anger and frustration. While you are dealing with angry or hostile respondents, maintain control of yourself and your emotions. It is not a good idea to “fight fire with fire.”

-- Remain calm and detached: It is important to avoid becoming emotionally involved in what the person is saying. Do not defend yourself or the government with respondents who say they hate you and all government employees. Indicate that you regret this opinion and express a desire to provide them with a positive experience. Just hearing them is usually enough. Acknowledging that you’ve listened is your way of supporting their right to have strong opinions, whether you share them or not.

-- One important note is that in some rare cases, an angry person can turn into a dangerous person. If you feel fearful, trust your instincts. If it seems like it is becoming a dangerous situation, then put your personal safety first and leave.

-- Role play scenarios to review these strategies.

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 25, 2009; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments, Census, Workplace Issues  
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