Last month a mother and daughter, Wendy and Natanya Campbell, were shot dead when they attended a tenant’s home in Northland, New Zealand. The pair had travelled to Quinn Patterson’s home to carry out a maintenance inspection, when Patterson began shooting. A third victim, contractor Jeff Pipe, was also shot but managed to escape the property.
Shortly after the police arrived at the scene, the house was engulfed in flames and Patterson’s body was found inside. The reason behind the shooting is still unknown to police.
While an extreme case, situations of violence and aggression against frontline housing employees are not unusual.
A recent survey by Inside Housing (UK) revealed a rise in the number of reported assaults against frontline staff in recent years. 65% of respondents had experienced verbal assault during the last year, with some stating that this was a regular or even daily occurrence.
Other experiences included racial abuse, being spat on, having furniture thrown at them and receiving death threats as well as being physically attacked or held hostage.
The number of reported assaults is so high that in the UK, an assault occurs every 35 working minutes.
The long-term impact
As well as immediate effects, such as injury and stress, feeling unsafe at work is likely to lead to low job satisfaction, a rise in sick days and a lower level of productivity.
One in six frontline housing workers said they had suffered lasting health impacts as a result of being assaulted. 91% said their health impacts were mental health orientated, reporting anxiety, insomnia, depression and in some cases, post-traumatic stress disorder.
One survey respondent, a London-based night support worker, was hit in the back of the neck by a tenant’s neighbour while waiting to be let into his client’s home. He knew the attacker and sometimes helped him with his medication. He still has flashbacks of the event and is scared of doing his job, fearing someone is waiting to attack him.
While statistics reveal that the majority of cases involve verbal or minor physical assaults, there have been a number of high-profile cases of violence against housing workers around the world, with many of them targeted because of their profession.
Why are assaults so common?
The reasons behind assaults within the property industry are wide-ranging and complex. However, many jobs involve delivering bad news and working with clients facing a range of issues. Many occur away from the public, and behind closed-doors. Frustration and stress is often taken out on the employees delivering the news, either by the client or their friends and family.
In some high-profile cases, housing employees have been targeted by criminals who know they will be met at a property alone, and can easily make up a false identity.
Real life cases
Beverly Carter: USA 2014
Realtor Beverly Carter was kidnapped and murdered while showing a house to a man she believed was a potential buyer. Her husband reported her missing when she failed to contact him following the appointment.
Five days later, Carter’s body was found in a shallow grave by the roadside. The man responsible for her death, Arron M. Lewis, later admitted to the kidnapping, claiming he targeted Carter for being female and working alone.
Double shooting: UK 2013
A housing officer and bailiff were shot by a tenant during an eviction. The pair, along with a locksmith, entered the flat of Mr Stephenson when he emerged from the kitchen and began shooting. While the bailiff was shot in the flat, the housing officer was chased into the street before being shot in the knee.
Both victims survived the shooting and Mr Stephenson was found guilty of two counts of wounding with intent.
Murder plot: USA 2012
Frank Yeager plotted to carry out his fantasy of raping and murdering a woman before taking his own life. He kept a list of 200 possible victims before deciding on a real estate agent. After months of planning, Yeager approached the estate agent in her office and asked to be shown around a secluded model home.
Fortunately, the estate agent noticed him acting strangely and instructed him to go to the property alone. He later returned and reported a leak at the property, asking her to come with him to take a look. When a male colleague entered the room, Yeager panicked and fled.
The agent later visited the house where she found the curtains had all been drawn, the lights were out and there was no leak.
Yeager was reported to the police who searched his home and truck, finding a diary outlining his rape and murder plan along with rope, chains, guns and duct tape. He was convicted of attempted rape in 2013.
Suzy Lamplugh: UK 1986
Suzy Lamplugh is one of the most well-known missing person’s cases in the UK. Estate agent, Lamplugh disappeared on 28th July 1986, after attending a house viewing with a man named as ‘Mr Kipper’ in her work diary. Her car was discovered later that evening close to the original viewing. Her purse was found inside the car but there was no trace of Lamplugh.
In 1994, Lamplugh was officially declared dead, presumed murdered, but her disappearance remains unsolved and the identity of the man she met with was never discovered.
Other high-profile cases
- Stephanie Slater kidnapping
- Ashley Okland murder
- 7 cases of violence and murder against housing employees
What can be done to protect housing employees?
Every employer has a legal responsibility to create a safe work environment for their employees. With housing industry workers operating across a range of work environments, including client homes, the risks they face increase as hazards become harder to control. This means that additional steps must be taken to safeguard employees in the property industry.
Our top tips
- Send your employees in pairs when meeting with new clients, delivering bad news or discussing sensitive and possibly upsetting information
- If working in pairs is not viable, consider meeting clients at the office, or in a public space, so they are seen by multiple people and any signs of aggression can be identified early on
- Ensure there is always an up to date log of who your employees are meeting with and where
- Implement a check-in policy so that if something happens, someone will be alerted even if the employee is unable to raise the alarm
- Carry out risk assessments to identify any possible hazards or areas/clients where lone working may not be safe
- Provide training for your employees on conflict resolution and personal safety
- Consider implementing a lone worker monitoring system
StaySafe’s lone worker monitoring solution
Buddy and check-in systems are common methods used to monitor the safety of lone workers. However, technology is becoming increasingly popular within the property industry, as devices and apps offer a reliable and time-effective solution.
StaySafe’s lone worker app and monitoring service, provides a way for employers to monitor the safety and location of remote employees as they work.
Beginning a session on the app before a period of lone working, will trigger a timed session and location tracking which is viewable in the companies personal Hub. The lone worker can trigger a panic alert on the app at any time, perform check-ins or send a discreet panic or duress alert.
If an alert is triggered, or the lone worker fails to check-in, a notification will be sent to a monitor who is able to view the alert, the employee’s location and any notes they have left when starting the session.
StaySafe is currently protecting housing employees around the world. Visit our case studies page to find out how StaySafe is being used to overcome individual safety challenges within the industry.
For more advice, download our guide to carrying out house visits and client meetings alone or take a look at Suzy Lamplugh’s code for personal safety.