Managing Violence in the Workplace: Complete Guide for Employers

At the heart of every organisation is a workforce that thrives in a safe and respectful environment. Yet, the pervasive issue of workplace violence casts a long shadow, threatening to disrupt this harmony. The complexities of this extend beyond physical altercations, encompassing the subtle yet corrosive threats and harassment that can undermine a company's core values and productivity.

Recently, at the IOSH conference on 'Managing Violence and Aggression - From Policy to Reality', we engaged as a sponsor in a pivotal exchange of insights and strategies. The knowledge gleaned from this gathering of health and safety professionals has significantly informed the perspectives we share in this guide. We delved into the latest thinking and practical measures, discussing with peers the realities of transforming policy into effective practice to safeguard our workforce.

Vatix at the IOSH conference on 1 Nov 2023 about "Managing Violence and Aggression"
Vatix at the IOSH conference on 1 Nov 2023 about "Managing Violence and Aggression"

Here's a compelling insight: proactive management of workplace violence is not merely a legal checkbox but a strategic imperative that bolsters employee welfare and, by extension, business performance. Organisations at the forefront of addressing these challenges are often seen as exemplary employers, enjoying higher retention rates and a more robust brand reputation. This isn't just about meeting ethical standards; it's a discerning business decision.

Join us as we navigate the multifaceted nature of workplace violence, unpack the legal frameworks, and present actionable solutions and steps based on cutting-edge conference takeaways.

1. Understanding the Scope

Workplace Violence and Aggression Spectrum - Insights from IOSH conference 2023

When we speak of 'violence in the workplace', it's vital to recognise that this term encompasses a broad spectrum of behaviours and incidents. Physical violence, including physical attacks, is a stark reality in some sectors, notably for healthcare workers who face unique challenges in their day-to-day roles. It's not solely the overt, violent acts of physical aggression that make the news; it's also the insidious, less visible forms of violence that can be just as damaging to your workforce and business.

Types of Workplace Violence

It manifests in various forms, from verbal abuse to psychological threats. It can originate from colleagues, clients, or even external individuals with no direct link to the business. 

For example, a customer may become aggressive, an employee could intimidate a co-worker, or a domestic dispute might spill over into the workplace. 

Each type requires a tailored response, yet all share the common thread of being unacceptable and harmful.

Statistics on Workplace Violence in the UK

In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) reported that there were 56,435 reported physical assaults against NHS staff in 2019/20, according to a report by HSJ & Unison.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the UK reported that in 2019/20, an estimated 688,000 workers in Great Britain were affected by violence at work, including threats and physical assault.

The numbers are more than just statistics; they represent real people in the workplace. These incidents not only affect the individuals involved but also have a ripple effect, impacting team morale and the overall safety culture within the company.

The Impact

The consequences of violence in the workplace are far-reaching. Direct effects include physical injuries and psychological trauma to the individuals involved. Indirectly, there can be a significant impact on employee well-being, with an increased risk of absenteeism and reduced productivity. Moreover, there's a tangible business cost associated with violence, including potential legal fees, compensation claims, and a tarnished company reputation that can deter both potential employees and customers.

Navigating the landscape of workplace and safety legislation is a fundamental responsibility for employers. Understanding and adhering to the laws not only ensures compliance but also lays the foundation for a robust approach to preventing violence in the workplace.

Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, employers in the UK are legally obliged to safeguard, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare of all employees while at work. This duty of care extends to risks from violence, requiring employers to implement reasonable preventive and protective measures. Failure to comply can lead to significant legal consequences, including fines and reputational damage.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 further stipulate that employers must conduct risk assessments to manage workplace safety proactively. This includes identifying potential sources of violence and aggression, evaluating the likelihood of their occurrence, and taking appropriate steps to either eliminate or control the risks. Documenting these assessments and the actions taken is not just a regulatory requirement; it's a critical piece of evidence that demonstrates due diligence.

Reporting Obligations under RIDDOR

Certain incidents of violence in the workplace must be reported under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). This includes acts of foreseeable violence and verbal or written threats of non-consensual violence that result in injuries requiring medical treatment beyond first aid. Understanding what constitutes a reportable incident and maintaining accurate records is crucial for compliance and for informing health and safety strategies.

3. Solutions for Managing Workplace Violence and Aggression

Solutions for Managing Workplace Violence and Aggression

In light of these legal responsibilities, the question arises: How can these obligations be transformed into effective, everyday practice? Insights from the IOSH conference on 'Managing Violence and Aggression - From Policy to Reality' have highlighted three key solutions that can be instrumental in managing workplace safety concerns:

Lone Worker Safety Solution

Lone Worker Solutions are pivotal in safeguarding individuals who may find themselves in vulnerable situations without immediate support. Tools like Vatix's Lone Worker Safety Solutions provide lone workers with emergency communication channels, real-time location tracking, and man-down alerts, ensuring that assistance is swiftly available in crisis situations. For example, a health care professional visiting patients at home can use a lone worker device to raise an alarm if they encounter aggression, ensuring rapid response and support.

Incident Reporting System

Incident Reporting System

Incident Reporting Systems are crucial for capturing data on near-misses and actual incidents of violence in the workplace, providing a foundation for proactive safety measures. Systems like Vatix's Incident Reporting Software allow for a detailed analysis of each event, facilitating the development of targeted interventions. In practice, if a retail worker experiences verbal abuse, a well-implemented incident reporting system ensures the event is logged, analysed, and used to inform future staff training or store policy updates, thereby enhancing the overall safety strategy.

Audits & Inspections

Effective management of workplace violence can be significantly bolstered by employing a comprehensive audit and inspection tool. Such a tool facilitates targeted risk assessments, allowing businesses to identify and address specific vulnerabilities related to aggression and conflict. Furthermore, it ensures that preventative measures, from security protocols to emergency response plans, are not only established but also regularly reviewed and rigorously maintained.

4. Risk Assessment for Workplace Violence

A thorough risk assessment is the cornerstone of any effective workplace incidents prevention strategy. It’s about identifying scenarios that could lead to harm and taking steps to prevent them. This isn’t a one-off task but an ongoing process that adapts as the workplace and its threats evolve.

Identifying Potential Hazards

The first step in a risk assessment is to identify potential hazards that could lead to violence. This involves looking at past incidents, considering the type of work, the working environment, and the interactions employees have with each other and with the public or clients. For some work activities, for instance, employees working alone or in isolated areas may be at greater risk and would need specific strategies to mitigate these risks.

Assessing the Risks

Once potential hazards are identified, the next step is to assess the likelihood and severity of these risks. This means considering risk factors, how often employees are exposed to potential sources of violence and the impact an incident could have on their health and well-being. For example, an employee who handles cash or valuable items could be at higher risk of robbery-related violence.

Implementing Control Measures

After assessing the risks, the focus shifts to implementing control measures. These should be proportionate to the risks identified and could include a range of strategies, such as:

  • Physical Security Measures: Installation of CCTV, better lighting, secure access controls, and lone worker devices.

  • Operational Changes: Altering work patterns, reducing the need for employees to work alone, and ensuring there are safe ways for them to report concerns.

  • Training: Providing employees with conflict resolution training and educating them on the signs of potential violence.

  • Support Systems: Establishing clear reporting procedures for incidents of violence and ensuring there are robust support mechanisms in place for those affected.

By systematically identifying, assessing, and controlling risks, employers can not only ensure compliance with health and other safety laws and regulations but also demonstrate their commitment to their employees’ safety. This proactive approach is key to preventing violence in the workplace and fostering a culture where safety is everyone's responsibility.

5. Preventative Measures and Best Practices

Employers can take practical steps to create a safe and secure work environment that deters violent and threatening behaviour too.

Creating a Zero-Tolerance Policy

A zero-tolerance policy towards violence is a clear statement of an employer's stance. It should unequivocally state that any form of violence physical assault or intimidation of lone workers is unacceptable and will be met with appropriate action. This policy must be communicated effectively to all employees, making it clear that the safety of staff is a top priority.

Training and Support for Employees

Training is a critical component of workplace violence prevention programmes. Employees should be equipped with the skills to recognise and de-escalate potentially violent situations. This can range from conflict resolution and communication skills to personal safety training. Support should also be readily available, whether it's a concern about a potentially violent situation or dealing with the aftermath of an incident.

Environmental Design and Security Measures

The design of the workplace can significantly influence the likelihood of violence. Measures such as secure entry points, adequate lighting, and layout changes that remove isolated areas can make a substantial difference. Implementing robust security measures, including alarms, surveillance systems, and a secure visitor protocol, can effectively deter potential aggressors. Ensuring physical security through comprehensive measures can act as a safeguard and discourage unwanted intrusions.

6. Dealing with Incidents of Workplace Violence

Despite the best preventive measures, incidents of workplace violence can still occur. It's crucial for employers to have a plan in place to protect employees and deal with such situations effectively and compassionately.

Immediate Response Strategies

When an incident occurs, the immediate priority is to ensure the safety of all employees. This may involve activating an alarm, calling emergency services, or implementing lockdown procedures. Employers should have a clear plan that is known to all employees, detailing the steps to take in the event of violence. For example, in a retail environment, this could include a discreet signal to colleagues that help is needed without escalating the situation.

Supporting Affected Employees

After an incident, the focus should shift to supporting those affected. This support can take many forms, from providing medical attention to offering psychological support through counselling services. It's also important to give employees time off if needed and to ensure they feel safe returning to work. For instance, an employee who has been threatened or physically assaulted before may benefit from a phased return to work or changes to their working environment.

Investigation and Reporting Procedures

Every incident should be followed by a thorough investigation to understand what happened and why. This should involve speaking to the victim, any witnesses, and reviewing any available evidence, such as CCTV footage. The findings of the investigation can then be used to improve safety measures, and prevent future incidents. If the incident meets specific criteria, it's crucial to report it to the relevant authorities, in compliance with legal requirements like those set out by RIDDOR in the UK.

Streamline your incident reporting with our free, comprehensive guide and checklist. Download now

incident reporting checklist

7. Recovery and Follow-Up

The aftermath of a workplace violence incident can be a critical time for healing and reflection. Employers must take the lead in facilitating this process, ensuring that the workplace recovers and emerges stronger.

Post-Incident Support and Counselling

Providing post-incident support is essential. Affected employees may require professional counselling to deal with trauma. Peer support groups and access to external counselling services can be invaluable. For instance, an employee who has experienced violence may benefit from sessions with a psychologist specialising in trauma. Employers should communicate the availability of these services clearly and encourage their use without stigma.

Reviewing and Updating Policies

After an incident, it's crucial to review and update existing policies and procedures. This review should consider what was learned from the incident and how policies could be improved to prevent a recurrence. Changes might include updating safety protocols, increasing security measures, a security guard or providing additional employee training.

If the perpetrator is an employee, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken in accordance with company policies and legal guidelines. This could range from suspension to termination, depending on the severity of the incident. Part of the recovery process may involve helping employees file an unfair dismissal claim if they have been victimised as a result of reporting workplace violence. Legal action may also be necessary, particularly if the violence involves criminal behaviour. Employers should work closely with legal counsel to ensure that any actions taken are appropriate and defensible.

8. Real Success Stories

Examples of Effective Violence Prevention Strategies

Examples of Effective Violence Prevention Strategies

Consider the case of a large retail chain that implemented a comprehensive violence prevention program. After identifying a pattern of aggressive customer behaviour during peak shopping hours, the company introduced conflict de-escalation training for their staff. They also redesigned store layouts to reduce isolated areas and installed better surveillance systems. As a result, the chain saw a significant reduction in reported incidents and an increase in employee confidence.

Lessons Learned from Past Incidents

Lessons Learned from Past Incidents

Another example comes from a manufacturing company where an employee was assaulted by a co-worker. Post-incident analysis revealed that warning signs, such as increased tension and verbal disputes, had been overlooked. In response, the company developed a structured system for reporting and addressing such warning signs. They also had safety representatives and introduced regular workshops on workplace respect and communication. These measures led to a more vigilant and supportive workplace culture.

8. Conclusions & Takeaways

In conclusion, understanding and addressing violence in the workplace is a critical responsibility for employers. By recognising the broad spectrum of violence, adhering to legal obligations, conducting thorough risk assessments, and implementing robust prevention and response strategies, businesses can create safer environments for their employees. Remember, a proactive stance on workplace violence not only fulfils legal requirements but also fosters a culture of safety and respect, which is essential for the well-being of your staff and the overall success of your company. Take action today to ensure your workplace is prepared, protected, and peaceful.

9. FAQs

What is my duty to staff as an employer and what laws relate to violence in the workplace?

As an employer, you have a legal duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to ensure the safety of your employees. This includes taking steps to identify hazards and prevent workplace incidents. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also require you to assess and manage risks of violence at work.

What should my business do if a violent incident takes place in the workplace?

Immediately ensure the safety of all staff safety and customers, provide first aid if necessary, and contact emergency services. Once the situation is under control, document the incident, support affected staff, and conduct a thorough investigation to prevent future occurrences.

Which jobs have a higher risk of workplace violence?

Jobs that involve handling money, working with volatile substances, public-facing roles, healthcare, and those that require working alone or in isolated areas tend to have a higher risk of workplace violence.

What are some advantages of having a written policy about workplace violence, harassment and other unacceptable behaviour?

A written policy sets clear expectations for behaviour provides a clear procedure for reporting incidents, outlines appropriate safeguards and demonstrates the company's commitment to a safe work environment, which can deter potential perpetrators.

How can you support workers who have been exposed to violence in the workplace?

Offer immediate assistance and professional support, such as counselling. Ensure they have adequate time off to recover and implement any necessary changes to prevent future such incidents.

What practical steps can my business take to prevent workplace violence?

Conduct risk assessments, implement security measures, provide staff training on conflict resolution, prevent violence, establish clear reporting procedures sufficient evidence, and foster a culture of respect and safety.

Work-related violence is covered under health and safety law. Under RIDDOR, employers must report certain serious workplace accidents, occupational diseases, and specified dangerous occurrences, including acts of non-consensual sexual assault and violence to workers.

Factors include working alone, late hours, handling money, valuables or prescription drugs, delivering services or health care staff alone, and working in community settings where alcohol is served.

Does it count if violent incidents happen outside of the workplace?

Yes, if the violence is work-related, such as during work-related travel, working from home, or at work-sponsored events, it is the employer's responsibility to address it.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter