MSD takes preventative approach to staff safety

By Heta Gardiner

The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) rolls out new and improved security measures and front of house changes at the Ōtara Work and Income offices today.

MSD's new objective is working on developing better relationships with the community. 

Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says, "If people feel a warm and welcoming environment, then you're less likely to have someone's behaviour escalate in a negative way. So we have to take on board ourselves that our treatment of people can actually lead to that escalation."

There is a new approach from the Ministry of Social Development when it comes to security.

They have steered clear of simply increasing security guards, but rather focusing on improving the communication and setting for the clients to avoid frustration from the very first interaction. 

Minister Sepuloni says, "Even the security guards now, they no longer ask people for their names and sign them off at the door. Their job is to be there, if someone maybe exhibits behaviour that's concerning, that's the only point where they will intervene."

Some of the changes to make the feel of the office more comfortable for the clients is having areas for private conversations with clients, comfortable chairs for those who have difficulty with movement, more open office spaces and Māori signage. 

The change follows the murders of Leigh Cleveland and Peggy Noble at the Work and Income office on Ashburton in 2014.

Russell John Tully went to the offices after feeling as though he had been unfairly treated for several months.

He walked into the office in disguise, and opened fire, killing the two women.

The Ashburton service centre has been operating on the same site as the Ashburton Police Station since the shooting. 

Minister Sepuloni says, "All we can do is to look moving forward, the evidence to support, the advice we're getting from staff and the experts about how we can make this the safest place it can be."

It will be three years before these new measures are in place in all the offices across the country.