People who deal directly with the public may face aggressive or violent behaviour. They may be sworn at, threatened or even attacked.
Violence is ...
The Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence is:
‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’.
Who is at risk?
Employees whose job requires them to deal with the public can be at risk from violence. Most at risk are those who are engaged in:
- giving a service
- cash transactions
- representing authority
Is it my concern?
Both employer and employees have an interest in reducing violence at work. For employers, violence can lead to poor morale and a poor image for the organisation, making it difficult to recruit and keep staff. It can also mean extra cost, with absenteeism, higher insurance premiums and compensation payments. For employees, violence can cause pain, distress and even disability or death. Physical attacks are obviously dangerous, but serious or persistent verbal abuse or threats can also damage employees’ health through anxiety or stress.
What the law requires
There are five main pieces of health and safety law which are relevant to violence at work. These are:
- The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) – Employers have a legal duty under this Act to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.
- The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 – Employers must assess the risks to employees and make arrangements for their health and safety by effective:
-monitoring and review.
The risks covered should, where appropriate, include the need to protect employees from exposure to reasonably foreseeable violence.
- The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) – Employers must notify their enforcing authority in the event of an accident at work to any employee resulting in death, major injury or incapacity for normal work for three or more consecutive days. This includes any act of non-consensual physical violence done to a person at work.
- Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977 (a) and The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996 (b) – Employers must inform, and consult with, employees in good time on matters relating to their health and safety. Employee representatives, either appointed by recognised trade unions under (a) or elected under (b) may make representations to their employer on matters affecting the health and safety of those they represent.
Effective management of violence
A straightforward four stage management process is:
Stage 1 – Finding out if you have a problem.
Stage 2 – Deciding what action to take.
Stage 3 – Take action.
Stage 4 – Check what you have done.
It is important to remember that these four stages are not a one-off set of actions. If stage 4 shows there is still a problem then the process should be repeated again. Stages 1 and 2 are completed by carrying out a risk assessment.
Stage 1 - Finding out if you have a problem
The first step in risk assessment is to identify the hazard. You may think violence is not a problem at your workplace or that incidents are rare. However, your employees’ view may be very different.
Stage 2 - Deciding what action to take
Having found out that violence could be a problem for your employees you need to decide what needs to be done. Continue the risk assessment by taking the following steps to help you decide what action you need to take.
Decide who might be harmed, and how
Identify which employees are at risk – those who have face-to-face contact with the public are normally the most vulnerable. Where appropriate, identify potentially violent people in advance so that the risks from them can be minimised.
Evaluate the risk
Check existing arrangements, are the precautions already in place adequate or should more be done? Remember it is usually a combination of factors that give rise to violence. Factors which you can influence include:
- the level of training and information provided;
- the environment;
- the design of the job.
Training and information
Train your employees so that they can spot the early signs of aggression and either avoid it or cope with it. Make sure they fully understand any system you have set up for their protection.
Provide employees with any information they might need to identify clients with a history of violence or to anticipate factors which might make violence more likely.
Provide better seating, decor, lighting in public waiting rooms and more regular information about delays.
- video cameras or alarm systems;
- coded security locks on doors to keep the public out of staff areas;
- wider counters and raised floors on the staff side of the counter to give staff more protection.
The design of the job
Bank money more frequently and vary the route taken to reduce the risk of robbery. Check the credentials of clients and the place and arrangements for any meetings away from the workplace.
Arrange for staff to be accompanied by a colleague if they have to meet a suspected aggressor at their home or at a remote location.
Make arrangements for employees who work away from their base to keep in touch.
Maintain numbers of staff at the workplace to avoid a lone worker situation developing. Keep a record of the significant findings of your assessment. The record should provide a working document for both managers and employees.Regularly check that your assessment is a true reflection of your current work situation. Be prepared to add further measures or change existing measures where these are not working. This is particularly important where the job changes. If a violent incident occurs, look back at your
Stage 3 - Take action
Your policy for dealing with violence may be written into your health and safety policy statement, so that all employees are aware of it. This will help your employees to co-operate with you, follow procedures properly and report any further incidents.
Stage 4 - Check what you have done
Check on a regular basis how well your arrangements are working, consulting employees or their representatives as you do so. Consider setting up joint management and safety representative committees to do this. Keep records of incidents and examine them regularly; they will show what progress you are making and if the problem is changing. Violence is also reportable under RIDDOR.