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What is Universal Precaution?

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Universal precaution is a trauma-informed practice that helps us live the trauma-informed value of safety. When we use universal precaution, we assume that everyone has trauma.


The term “universal precaution” was popularized by the CDC as a response to the HIV crisis during the 80s. Universal precaution helped healthcare professionals reduce the risk of spreading HIV through a set of standard practices, which included handwashing, personal protective equipment (PPE such as gloves and masks), and proper needle handling.


These universal precautions have since become the norm in healthcare settings, not just for HIV but for many other illnesses that spread through human contact.


In trauma-informed care, universal precaution functions similarly. But instead of behaving as if everyone has HIV or another contractable illness, we behave as though everyone has trauma.


Approaching situations with universal precaution enables us to access the many trauma-informed skills and knowledge we need to improve outcomes for ourselves, those we work with, and our organizations.


Universal Precaution Explained

While the basic concept of universal precaution is easy to grasp, the details of how we respond to people with trauma can be more complex and difficult to understand.


Examples of Universal Precaution

Universal precaution can look different for every person and every organization, but it’s important to remember that the overarching goal is always the same: to reduce harm. Here are some examples of what universal precaution may look like in practice:


  • Having a trauma-informed care provider on-call or on-site during clinical research settings to talk to participants who experience trauma responses

  • Establishing safety at work with clearly outlined procedures, practices, and organizational norms for new hires

  • Creating a time and place to discuss potentially traumatic topics and holding space for your community when these topics arise

  • Using clear, direct, and kind language in any situation where physical touch is involved (such as healthcare and wellness settings) that is safety- and consent-focused

  • Developing trauma-informed intervention models in educational, governmental, and healthcare settings that focus on reducing harm

  • Using strategies to recognize, name, and redirect reenactments


While the exact methods and procedures for reducing harm will vary, the knowledge, language, and skills of trauma-informed care remain the same.


Trauma-Informed Concepts that Support Universal Precaution

If you’re new to the trauma-informed model, understanding universal precaution can be difficult. Thankfully, there’s a wealth of knowledge on our blog to help you understand the basic concepts of trauma-informed care. For a comprehensive introduction to trauma-informed practices, download a free copy of Chefalo Consulting’s Complete Guide to Trauma-Informed Care.


To learn more about trauma-informed topics that will help you understand universal precaution, check out these free blogs, available on The Art of Trauma Informed:


Final Thoughts: Learning Universal Precaution

Universal precaution is just one method we can use to embed trauma-informed norms and values into our lives.


If you want to learn the foundations of trauma-informed care, including the key knowledge, language, and skills you need to get started, enroll in Chefalo Consulting’s Trauma-Informed Masterclass.


This foundational trauma training course brings the core aspects of trauma-informed care into one course, and it’s on sale now until this summer. Get early bird pricing and reserve your seat now at chefaloconsulting.com/book-online.

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