Work Related Violence
What provisions should I make to protect my staff from attack?
Work-related violence is defined by the HSE as ‘Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’. Sexual or racial harassment at work should also be viewed as a violence issue.
Where an act of violence takes place between employees, it is usually dealt with by the organisation’s internal disciplinary procedures. It would then be up to the aggrieved person to pursue his/her own legal remedy (civil, criminal or both) for assault. However, if workers encounter violence by others, such as a member of the public, health and safety legislation can be applied to protect them.
Under the Health & Safety at Work Act, an employer must provide safe systems of work, safe workplaces, a safe working environment and adequate information, instruction and training for staff.
The management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations l999 require an employer to assess the risks to the health and safety of workers that they are exposed to at work, make arrangements to deal with identified risks and implement suitable arrangements.
Obviously violence cannot be predicted, but the employer should identify risks and try to prevent or reduce the likelihood of attack. Where there is a significant risk of violence the employer must carry out a risk assessment to comply with legal obligations, identify the hazards associated with violence that may affect their workers in the jobs they do and compile a ‘violence prevention programme’.
Ensuring that adequate training and information is given to all affected employees is of paramount importance. A written policy for dealing with violence at work, developed via consultation with employees, should be included within the general safety policy statement of the organisation and all workers notified.
It is helpful for employers to consult staff on an informal basis as this can identify the majority of problems that would not necessarily come to light. If staff are aware of company policy on violence at work, this will be a great encouragement for them to report any incidents of violence when they occur and give them the confidence that the problem will be addressed.
Staff at risk should be highlighted and checks made to existing arrangements for controlling violence to ascertain if more should be done to protect them. Adequate information, instruction and training to all workers will enable them to recognise the early signs of a potentially violent incident so that they may attempt to diffuse the situation.
Ongoing checks should be made that all arrangements are working well via general observation and regular consultation with staff. It may also be helpful to set up a safety committee if the company does not already have one. If violence continues it will be necessary to review and improve the preventive measures that have been implemented.
The potential for violence to occur should be considered not only in respect of staff based at the company premises but also those who work away from it. Employer’s duties in respect of safety are not limited by geographical boundaries. Also, if lone working increases the risk of violence, this should be included in the risk assessment and similarly addressed.