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The plight of the lone worker

Steve Collins, CEO of PS5, was among invited speakers at the annual Lone Workers Safety Conference, at London Olympia on November 27. He spoke on his REACT system of personal protection.

By the very nature of their chosen career the lone worker is at threat from verbal and physical abuse from rude, angry, frustrated, drunk and even mentally ill customers and clients. The non-authorisation of a credit card in a shop can lead to anger and resentment. The culture of complaining, often encouraged by the media, can also lead to volatile situations. Establishments that stock expensive, highly desirable goods may increase the risk of robbery and therefore the risk of violent behaviour. Many lone workers are required to work and travel at night, often on remote rural roads or in unknown areas. Lone workers can face anti-social behaviour in many forms, such as road rage, while out on delivery work. Carrying cash is another high risk activity lone workers are frequently required to undertake.

Lone workers are habitually required to work at all hours, including late into the night and in the early hours of the morning. They may be called on to close down a restaurant because of, for example, poor hygiene standards. The proprietor will be faced with losing money or even going out of business and this will more often than not lead to aggressive and abusive behaviour towards the lone worker.
The lone worker employed by social services may have to take children away from their home. This is often a highly charged and emotional experience for the parents and the children alike and puts the lone worker in a high-risk situation. Care workers experience physical and verbal abuse, including sexual harassment, on a regular basis and personal care staff regularly get attacked because they are mistaken for health visitors and thought to be carrying drugs.
Exposure to aggressive members of the public, drunk customers, drug users and having to deal with aggressive and violent confrontation is sadly all too often the lot of the lone worker.

Most of us have a natural built-in instinct to try and avoid trouble if we possibly can. However, the sad but stark reality is that violent crime has become a worldwide social disease of epidemic proportions, and no matter what the police or government might tell us, the truth is that it has been steadily on the increase over the last 50 years. Although we are all at risk, the lone worker is on the front line.

Duty of care
We hear all the time that employers have a duty of care and a legal responsibility to protect their lone workers from the risks of physical and verbal abuse. However, for the most part, employers only do a tick-the-box exercise. For the lucky ones this usually comprises of an afternoon of conflict resolution training with a few half-hearted breakaway techniques thrown in for good measure, and I say the lucky ones because the vast majority don’t even get that. Most of the time what they get is a plethora of risk assessments, policies and pledges assuring them that the management has done all it can to provide a high quality and safe working environment with robust and up-to-date procedures in place to ensure their safety. All this may be well-meaning, but the facts are that when faced with a dangerous situation all the well meaning risk assessments, policies and pledges in the world will not help you!

Your safety is your responsibility
I have been involved with self defence and personal safety for more than 50 years. I developed the ‘REACT system, over 40 years of study and research. Thousands of people from both the private and public sectors world wide are safer because of REACT training, the REACT Survival Files and my REACT books, one of which is the best-selling book on self defence and personal protection ever published. Those that have listened to my lectures or attended one of my REACT classes will have heard me say over and over again ‘Your safety is your responsibility’. They will also have heard me say, ‘In 99 per cent of violent incidents the victim will be attacked psychologically and/or verbally long before they are attacked physically.’ This means your initial defence mechanism will always be triggered by a psychological stimulation inspired by the ‘R complex’ section of your brain. To help explain what I mean by this, we must first understand how the human brain is structured.

Three brains in one
When asked, most people will say they only have one brain.
In fact, we actually have three brains that sit one inside the other. As each of our evolutionary phases took place, a new brain was born and wrapped around the old one.
• Brain (1) the ‘R complex’ sits at the centre. This is our Reptilian brain.
• Brain (2) the ‘Limbic system’ is wrapped around brain 1. This is our Mammalian brain.
• Brain (3) the ‘Neocortex’ is our modern Cognitive brain and it is wrapped around the other two. ‘R complex’ is the oldest part of our brain and sits deep inside the ‘Neocortex’. ‘R complex’ is the brain we share with reptiles, it is often referred to as the housekeeping part of our brain because it still deals with the basics of our survival mechanism: hunger, temperature control, fear responses, defending territory, keeping safe and the fight-or-flight response.
The reptilian part of our brain is pure instinct and has one function and one function only, ‘survival’, and it is this part of the brain that the REACT system is primarily concerned with.

The delegates at the conference were introduced to the REACT Tactical Toolbox and the REACT Dynamic Spiral. These two elements sit at the heart of the system and I believe make it the only truly holistic meta-cognitive approach to realistic and effective confrontation management and personal protection. It is based on the fact that the ‘reptilian’, or as I refer to it in the system, the ‘reactive’ part of the brain takes over from the Cognitive brain in times of extreme stress and danger. REACT considers the whole spectrum, including the emotional, physiological and physical. The Dynamic Spiral locks you into influences (both internal and external) utilising what the body wants to do instinctively without training and turning it to your advantage.

Imagine a big, old alligator lying on a riverbank in the midday sun. He just wants to be left alone to mind his own business, but go too close, or worse still mess with him, and he will kill you. He won’t stop to consider any moral, legal, or politically correct implications. He won’t back off or run away. No, his instincts take over and he will just do what comes naturally, and then go back to lying in the sun as if nothing had ever happened.

We still have this reptilian instinct in our heads and REACT taps into the ‘R complex’ deep inside your brain. However, in our modern society we do have to think about political correctness and the moral, legal, and ethical ramifications of our actions. That said, it does not mean we have to be fettered by them. There is nothing politically correct about being attacked, physically beaten, shot, stabbed, raped or worse. There comes a point where you have to take control and give yourself permission to do whatever is necessary and appropriate to stop whatever is happening or in your perception what you think might be about to happen.

Just being aware that you still have the ability to react instinctively is an enormous step in the right direction, that focuses your mind into a formidable weapon, triggering your brain into reptilian mode. Once locked in, even the smallest, weakest, most unlikely people will be capable of defending themselves. Nothing to do with skill, nothing to do with the size of your muscles but everything to do with your mind!
Your will to survive is the most important weapon in your arsenal.

Your safety is your responsibility because in times of crises or danger the only person that you can guarantee will come to your assistance is YOU.

About the writer
Steve Collins is also author of Manual of Prohibited and Concealable Weapons. PS5 is a Manchester-based security consultancy and training provider to the law enforcement, defence and the security sectors. He is a member of the Security Institute, the US-based International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association ( Ken Rogers’ review of Steve REACT (Recognise, evaluate, alternatives, concentrate, terminate) was in our August 2001 issue.


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