Just because it's "approved" doesn't make it safe

By Terry Streather | restraint

Apr 19
"If someone told you to jump into a fire, would you?"

Like most parents I just said the words without thinking; so ingrained in the "little book of witty parenting comments" has it become.

But it was clearly the first time my 6 year old had heard them. And as her little brain processed the pearl of wisdom I had bestowed upon her, I had a thought...

When do we loose that?

When do we start doing things without question because someone told us to, or said it was ok? Or just do things because that's the way we've always done them?

Take for example "approved" physical intervention techniques (restraint in old money).

Here's one for you...

The manual says (and I'm paraphrasing here):

  1. 3 x staff members sit subject in chair and secure
  2. Bend forward
  3. Monitor breathing

Sounds ok. Now imagine the subject is an upset 15 year old, who has just lunged at you. He is under 5ft tall and really upset because you've just taken something that was important to him (a note with his mums phone number) from his room. Oh, you took the paper to punish him because he wouldn't clean the toaster.

On the 19th April 2004, in a secure training centre, Gareth Myatt was restrained in a Home office and Youth Justice Board "approved" technique, called a "seated double embrace". By the book (kinda)...

It killed him.

When Gareth shouted he couldn't breathe and that he was going to defecate, can you guess the response? Yep... "If you can shout, you can breathe" or words to that effect. Gareth did defecate, then vomit... and then choke on his vomit.

Accidental death was the ruling.

Or how about this: (again, I'm not quoting here)

If the subject spits or bites:

  1. Wrap a webbing belt around the face
  2. The belt should be lightly wrapped and no pressure applied

Seriously?

Police officers from Devon and Cornwall were trained in this technique, and it was implicated in the death of Thomas Orchard, a church caretaker with paranoid schizophrenia.

Sadly, these cases are not unique. Google "restraint related deaths" and you will find story after tragic story of lives being ended when in crisis, at the hands of those charged with safegaurding (ooh...I said safegaurding!) those vulnerable lives.

Having worked on the frontline myself, I understand the reality behind the emotive healdines.

For most, headlines like "14 year old child" and "father of three" etc conjour images of rainbows, butterflys and fluffy unicorns. The reality is often very different and we have to acknowledge that among some of society's most vulnerable people are also some of most potentially dangerous.

The men and women charged with supporting these vulnerable people do incredibly difficult work in very trying circumstances. They don't want to harm or kill.

Situations are often difficult to resolve, and sometimes there is no appropriate alternative course of action; "hands on" really is the absolute last resort.

And sometimes people just get swept along...

In 1963 Stanley Milgram published research into why people conform, even if it goes against their conscience. If you don't know about the "Milgram Experiments" have a look at this:

Milgram concluded that when someone has neither ability nor expertise to make decisions, especially in a crisis, they will leave the decision making to the group and its hierarchy..."Lets wrap that belt around this man's face!!"   Sounds good...

But just because the "expert" in the white coat says it's ok, and the other boys and girls are doing it, doesn't mean it's right.

And just because it's in a manual doesn't mean it's lawful (reasonable force) or safe in all circumstances.

You might read about "approved" or "accredited" training and assume that they have undergone rigorous examination, and met the "required" standard. Those qualified to take care of such things will have looked into it and if I do exactly what they say I'll be fine.

Wrong. For a lot of reasons really.

There is no restraint "governing body" and most accredited systems are voluntary, and established by companies rather than government bodies. Unbelievable really in 2017.

And even when there are frameworks it doesn't guarantee the safety of techniques.

​Thought experiment time...

What would you say then to a "manual" of best practice being used in a child care setting, advocating the use of a technique that has a 50% chance of killing or permanently injuring young people? Outrage no doubt... not in today's world, surely not!

But it's a lot worse than that I'm afraid.

In 2016 the Guardian reported on an internal Ministry of Justice risk assessment of restraint techniques used in secure settings. The MOJ's own risk assessment showed that certain procedures approved for use against non-compliant children

"carry a 40% or 60% chance of causing injuries involving the child’s airway, breathing or circulation, the consequences of which could be catastrophic”.

Come again...

Yep... 28 of the 66 scenarios assessed had at least a 40% chance of causingdeath or permanent severe disability affecting everyday life”

Which leads us nicely to one of the most common phrases I read in police statements where force had been used:

"Home Office approved"

"I used a home office approved knee strike," or "I took him to the floor with a "home office approved" take down..."

And I hear similar in schools and social care settings up and down the country. If you like. substitute "Home office approved" for "MAPA approved" or "Team Teach approved".

I'm not having a go at anyone here. I'm just saying that some people seem to think it's ok to do whatever your like, as long as it's in a manual.

"Prone Restraint" appears in many manuals too, and "experts" now tell us that it is an absolute no-no unless absolutely necessary. I thought all restraint was a no-no unless absolutely necessary?​

To sum this thing up then...

I'm not saying lets burn the manuals! But just because we are acting in line the manual and policy doesn't mean we should leave our common sense at the door.

Next time you are required to get hands on, ask yourself:

"If this were my son, daughter, sister, brother, mother, father, favorite uncle who visits all the time- would I do the same?"
Follow

About the Author

Terry is Director and Head of Training at Oakwood. He helps clients promote a proactive, rather than reactive approach to both personal safety and the positive mental health of their staff. He has over 12 years teaching experience in these areas, and advises organisations in the development of appropriate risk assessment and policy.