Violence at Work (UK)

Be Prepared

Protecting yourself effectively against violence at work begins with arming yourself - with knowledge and understanding!

The information below will help you.


Know the score

It's a fact that:

a) You can't rely on the HSE (or any other Government Inspectorate body) to ensure that your employer maintains safe working conditions.

b) Most employers don't make safety improvements unless the circumstances mean they absolutely have to, (typically only after a serious injury incident has happened.)

c) Most managers, it seems, prefer to let employees face the risks and suffer rather than risk invoking their CEO's wrath by requesting extra expenditure on safety measures for the staff - even when the need is quite obvious.

d) Most Safety Reps are comfortable in their jobs and won't want to 'rock the boat' by insisting on safety improvements that are being demanded by just one employee - even if the demand is fully justified.

e) Many employees prefer to face extremes of personal danger rather than contest the adequacy of safety arrangements with their manager.


Take control

You must take responsibility for your own safety and well being at work.


Prioritise your 'emotional security'

We're all different but, we all share a basic need to feel safe and secure in order to stay healthy and well. The extent to which we feel the need to be secure varies between individuals - and so does what makes us feel safe and unsafe.

Some people cope better than others in certain kinds of situations and some people get alarmed quicker and some worry more than others.

You will know whether or not you are the kind of person who stays unaffected by verbal abuse and calm and composed in threatening situations. Maybe you positively welcome and thrive on the responsibility of handling them and, if you are, that's great. If you're not, you need to focus on fulfilling 'your need to feel safe' - otherwise your enjoyment of your job, the quality of your work performance and ultimately your health will suffer.

Don't underestimate it. Upset and worry caused by violence at work leads to unhappiness at work and at home. It can put a real strain on family and friend relationships - and stress is a killer!


Put the risks of serious assault into perspective

Every violent incident has the potential to result in very serious injury and even death; and this and the fact that violence can happen anywhere at any time is a major concern for a lot of people. But, the indisputable fact is, the vast majority of workplace assaults do not result in very serious injury, let alone death and, in many cases, the high level of anxiety being endured may be unwarranted. This doesn't mean you shouldn't take the risk of assault seriously, but it should help you get a better perspective of the risks and give you reason to worry less.

Probably the greatest danger to health lies in allowing anxieties, tension and stress to build up from unresolved 'in house' conflicts.


Know your rights (and the rights of others)

Employees who don't know their rights are likely to be treated as if they haven't got any - and mercilessly exploited. Knowing your rights will also give you a grounding in other people's rights and help you to make appropriate judgements in difficult situations.


Be clear about expectations of you

Establish your employer's expectations of you in relation to reducing risk, developing safer working practice and customer care.

Know your organisation's Policies, Organisational Structure, Procedures, Staff Code of Conduct and Rules & Regulations back to front and inside out.

Know what to report and when and how and who to report to You should know (and if you don't, you need to find out) what constitutes a Reportable Violent Incident for your organisation's purposes and where to go to fill out a report and who to make it to. You also need to know who to report 'safety concerns' to - and what the procedure is if you are dissatisfied with the response you get.

Everyone (your employer, colleagues, the public - and the courts) expects you to be up to the job and to without delay inform your employer of anything affecting your ability to carry out your role safely and effectively.

Nobody expects you to have to tolerate mistreatment, verbal abuse, threats, intimidation or assault

You are expected to draw attention to shortcomings in safety arrangements - especially where the situation represents a danger to others.

No-one expects you to keep working in unsafe circumstances.

Everybody expects you to withdraw if you suspect a danger exists that you can't handle!

The courts, employment tribunals and insurance companies expect you to always behave as an 'ordinary cautious person' would and not to ever put yourself at any unnecessary risk - and may criticise and penalise you if you do.


Know how to register a "workplace related" grievance / complaint

Every workplace should have an official process of dispute, difference and complaint reconciliation. Every employee needs to know how to use it - and everyone needs to have access to it.


Know how to use safety equipment

It's very important that you know how to operate 'safety equipment' competently. This includes, Personal Attack Alarms : In House Panic Alarms : Personal Radios, CCTV etc.


Be aware of the danger areas of your workplace

'Not so safe' areas exist in all workplaces. Some areas may present an increased risk of physical violence happening because of the number of people congregated there and the nature and quality of processes being carried out. Other areas may, increase vulnerability to serious assault in the event of an attack (but, not necessarily an increased risk of occurrence) because of the absence of people nearby and able to help. For example: Shared staff and public toilets; badly lit stair wells, the car park, areas not covered by CCTV etc. .

Find out where the 'Danger Areas' are in your workplace and, as far as possible, try to limit the time you spend there.


Know and comply with Safe Practice Protocols

Safe Practice Protocols are workplace rules that help to ensure safety by regulating the way work (or particular aspects of it) is carried out.


(a) If your workplace has a 'high risk of danger' area, Protocols may apply which require that you are accompanied at all times, that you've had appropriate training, etc.

(b) If you are going to be working in a part of the workplace (or outside of it) in circumstances that leave you isolated from the support of the close presence of colleagues, there may well be a protocol that requires you to notify security of where you will be, for how long, to "call in" at regular times, etc..

(c) There may also be a protocol on approaching and challenging "suspects" found on the premises that states you must not do so alone.

You need to know and comply with them all.

Failing to comply with Safety Instructions is a breach of your statutory obligation under Section 14 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 which requires employees to cooperate with the employer and others to meet statutory requirements (i.e. Compliance with guidance, Codes of Practice, Instructions, Safety Procedures, Training, etc.)

Deliberate failure to comply with Safety Protocols may also be interpreted as a breach of Section 7, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 - the legal requirement of all employees to take "reasonable care" of their own health and safety and the health and safety of other persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions.

An employee's disregard for safety instructions will reduce their employer's liability for what happens to them.

In the event they become injured themselves, an employee's 'recklessness' in ignoring safety instructions could be interpreted as a "voluntary taking of the risk" and result in a reduction of any compensation award that they may be eligible for - proportionate to how much their own actions contributed to the severity of the outcome.

Where a failure to adhere to Safe Practice Protocols results in harm to anyone else, it will evidence a lack of care and may support a civil claim for compensation. In serious cases - the employee (s) responsible may also face criminal prosecution, conviction, and prison. Under S. 36/ 37 H&S at Work Act 1974, individuals within an organisation can be charged with criminal offences where, through consent, connivance or neglect, they contribute significantly to serious harm occurring.


Be familiar with your organisation's Emergency Rescue / Evacuation procedures

Regulation 8 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires employers to establish appropriate procedures to be followed in the event of 'serious and imminent' danger.

You need to know (and take part in regular practice of ) these procedures so, as to:

a) Be able to carry out your designated role proficiently

b) Appreciate the limitations of the arrangements


Know the history of violent incidents at your the workplace

If your workplace has suffered from violent incidents in the past find out where they happened, why they happened and who was involved - so that, as far as possible, a repetition can be avoided.


Know who the dangerous people are!

Whilst, everyone you interact with at work is a potential perpetrator of workplace violence, some people are more likely to behave violently than others. You need to know who these people are so you can take appropriate precautionary measures when you are going to be with them.

The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 require employers to (in good time) inform and consult with employees on matters relating to their health and safety. The regulations also make it a statutory obligation that employers inform employees of all the risks to their health from hazards known to affect the workplace and also any increase in the level of risk of harm to their health.

A history of violent behaviour is a robust predictor of future violence - so you have a 'right' to be told if the information is known (or should be known) to your organisation.


Know the characteristics - and sensitivities - of your clients, your colleagues and your boss!

Appreciating 'difficulties' being experienced by your clients can help you to understand why they might behave badly and help you to keep a caring attitude to them.

Personal knowledge of another person's character, abilities, traits and sensitivities can also help you to avoid doing something that is likely to provoke a negative response from them.

Having good relations with a person may not prevent them assaulting you - but it helps! And, knowing how a person usually behaves can help you to detect changes which indicate agitation and give an opportunity to prevent escalation.


Adopt a 'positive care' attitude

Approaching your work with the fixed intention of helping people to resolve difficulties, being prepared to be patient, receptive and understanding and expecting a hostile response, is a good step towards exerting control during incidents where people have become angry/upset and potentially violent.

This is because a person's attitude is reflected subconsciously in their body language, manner and behaviour.

If the message you're giving out is that you "Care" it is likely to be responded to in a positive way, whereas if you "Don't care" the response is more likely to be hostile.

( It's extremely provocative to receive a "message" that the person dealing with you doesn't give a flying .... about you or your friends - and it could be the straw that breaks the camel's back!)


Keep a 'positive care' attitude

Keeping a positive care attitude towards some of the people you have to deal with can be challenging and it may help to consider them in a different way. Try to see people who have lost control of their emotions and composure as representing a danger to themselves and others and, as such, requiring care and support.


Resolve to avoid becoming aggressive

Becoming aggressive in response to an angry person threatening you is understandable (after all nature's bottom line is fight or flight). But, it will (at a subconscious level) be transmitted to and interpreted by the other party as a threat - with the likely effect of upping the ante and increasing the likelihood of an attack.


Be a 'Peacemaker'

Certain individuals seem to possess an innate ability to 'talk people down' from becoming violent and are far more likely to achieve a peaceable result than their colleagues.

An examination of the qualities of these individuals would show them to be: Friendly and approachable; understanding; calm, controlled and unhurried; knowledgeable about workplace procedures; experienced and respectful of the rights of others.

Learning and copying the skills that these people have shown to work can improve your own ability to deal with hostile individuals and achieve peaceful resolutions.


Make your goal 'Peaceful Solutions'

It is in everyone's interests that conflict and confrontations are resolved in a peaceful way. The direct advantages to you of concluding interactions without 'physical violence' occurring include:

a) Avoiding the risk of sustaining injury - and * infection and infestation.

b) Avoiding the risk of causing injury to the other person (N.B. The risk of complaints, allegations of assault and unlawful detention are also significantly reduced.

c) Reducing the likelihood of reprisals.


First impressions count

Creating the right first impression is essential (especially in jobs involving brief interactions with members of the public).

A clean, tidy appearance and an alert confident manner presents an image of competence that can help to dissuade people against resorting to violence. So are looking and being fit.


Be able to recognise 'danger' signs in confrontations

Most work related attacks don't just happen 'out of the blue'. Before a person gets to the stage where they hit someone, there has usually (although, not always) been some form of communication between them (verbal and/ or non verbal). The time that elapses between the first communication and an assault can vary (considerably) but, it is usually long enough for the aggressor to display 'warning signs' indicating their growing anger and frustration and the threat of imminent assault.

Knowing and being able to recognise the danger signs will help you to avoid being an assault victim at the conclusion of the cycle!

To learn more about Danger Signs: Click Here


Know how to avoid "triggering" an assault

Physical assaults usually follow on from some form of inappropriate behaviour on the part of the victim which "triggers" the attack.

To learn more about Avoiding Triggers: Click Here


Know how and when to call for back up from colleagues, security and/or the police.

Be acutely aware of just how early you need to call for back up for it to be useful to you - and keep in mind what help the assistance will be. (Don't overstretch!)


Decision making

To avoid criticism any and all action you take should have the objective of maximising safety.

Think, before you act.

If, to take a particular course of action is likely to result in serious harm then YOU must weigh up the likely consequences with the need to take the action, justified against the likely consequences of not proceeding with it and the availability of other workable alternatives.

You are expected to choose the course of action which results in the least adverse outcome.

As in Fire Drill, and First Aid practice - always consider your own personal safety first.

Discuss any doubts you may have with your supervisor ..