Guide to policy and training for dealing with vulnerable customers

It’s well known that regular contact with vulnerable people comes hand in hand with managing a licensed venue. Many factors contribute to a customer becoming vulnerable, from lowered inhibition and impaired judgment, to spiked drinks and being left alone. Jo Cox-Brown, Director of Night Time Economy Solutions, offers insight on how to plan the management of vulnerable persons in your business to create a safer environment for all. This follows on from Jo’s practical guide, Keeping Drinking Safe.

Your responsibility towards a vulnerable person starts as soon as they approach your venue. Dealing with vulnerability is a complicated, moving process, so it’s important that every member of staff feels confident handling situations safely.

Having effective measures in place to deal with vulnerabilities helps to keep both customers and staff safe. To do this, venues must develop a policy and risk assessment on dealing with vulnerable patrons. Quality training should then be delivered to staff so they feel equipped to implement the policy with confidence.

How to create a Vulnerable Persons Policy for your premises

Your policy for dealing with vulnerable people should be extensive in the types of vulnerability it covers, and clear on the ways in which it should be rolled out. A policy won’t be effective if it isn’t clear and specific about how staff should deal with situations, they’re likely to be presented with.

When we work with licensed businesses, we start by helping them create a matrix of every possible type of vulnerability they come across, together with the ways they currently deal with them. This is reviewed, amended for best practice and presented in a chart so it can be broken down into:
● Types of vulnerability
● Duty of each staff member, e.g. bar staff, supervisor, door contractors
● Action to be taken
● When to contact an external agency such as police or ambulance service

This provides important clarity to all staff both in preparation for, and during, an incident. It’s essential that everyone feels equipped to deal with situations that arise as a result of vulnerability, and that they have a quick and clear chart to refer to when needed.

What should your policy cover?

All vulnerable people policies should include the following information:
● A definition of the different types of vulnerability that may present at your premises.
● How best to communicate with vulnerable people, with individual sections for different types. For example, people who are drunk, people on their own, people behaving aggressively and people who are ill.
● How to safeguard vulnerable people, including information on First Aid administration and referral to the ambulance service where relevant.
● Best practice for partnering with agencies, such as taxi companies and other venues.
● What to do if you sense a vulnerable person is in danger, for example if they leave the venue alone or with people they didn’t arrive with.

Creating a dynamic risk assessment

Those of us experienced in working in a licensed premise know that a risk assessment needs to be much more than a form with ticked boxes. Staff and management respond to a variety of situations on a nightly basis and need to be able to react in a dynamic way.

Staff should be taught to:
● Evaluate the situation as it develops
● Treat each person as an individual and not make snap judgments
● Assess who is the best person to help in the circumstance
● Work with the vulnerable person to find a solution where possible
● Spot signs of danger including aggression and alcohol poisoning

We recommend creating a risk assessment that starts with assessment of the vulnerability (e.g. a lone vulnerable person) and follows with a simple safety scale and clear actions to take. Taking the example above, if a patron was leaving the venue alone at night, the safety scale would be higher if they were drunk or if they were female, and a clear action to take would be to ask if they were ok, how they were getting home and to assist them by calling a taxi or a friend.

Staff need to feel able to make these decisions in a live way. The best way to help ensure they’re making informed choices in the moment is to provide them with thorough, interactive training.

Training staff in working with vulnerable people

The best way to manage vulnerability is to ensure that you have equipped your team with the skills to effectively deal with vulnerable people before it becomes an issue. This can be done by using a variety of paid for or free electronic training tools such as WAVE training or E-training through Drinkaware or asking your local police or volunteer team such as Street Angels or Street Pastors, or bringing in a specialist training company.

All staff should receive regular training on working with vulnerable people, ideally once a quarter. We recommend this as a group exercise in the first instance at least, as this allows the expertise of different staff members to be shared and for the session to cover more real life scenarios.

Training updates can then be given to a supervisor and cascaded down to staff if the supervisor feels confident with this.

Training should cover:
● Going through the policy as a team and discussing the practical management of vulnerable people
● Ways to protect a staff member’s own safety, for example not engaging with a vulnerable person alone
● Practical training exercises to ensure the policy is understood
● Opportunities for questions and discussion
● Signing of the policy by all staff members

For more information on creating and implementing policies, practices and training for dealing with vulnerable people, you can get in touch with Jo or Sylvia at who’d be happy to assist.