Work-related violence - what can employers do?
Updated: Feb 16
Employees have a right to feel safe at work. Not feeling safe undermines any sense of security and can have a corrosive effect on morale as well as physical and mental wellbeing. When violence at work isn’t dealt with effectively, it can lead to employees choosing to leave a job that they love.
Even if staff don’t leave, absenteeism due to stress can rise, and the employer can also find themselves facing higher insurance premiums and the cost of compensation.
Work-related violence – the definition
The HSE defines work-related violence as: ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’.
The majority of incidents involve verbal abuse and threats. Physical attacks are rare but this is no consolation to those who become victims.
Violence at work is a health and safety issue first and foremost. Employees can be left with both physical and psychological injuries and, in a worst-case scenario could be killed. Unless the employer can show that they’ve done everything reasonably practicable to reduce the risk to staff, they could be facing legal action and very serious consequences for their business.
So, what can they do?
The risk assessment process As with any health and safety problem, a risk assessment (a five-step process that identifies objects and processes that could cause harm to employees or members of the public) will help the employer establish policies and procedures on work-related violence.
Under health and safety law, staff will need to be involved in the process. It’s not something that can be drawn up and implemented by managers alone. However, the employer is responsible for ensuring that the assessment is carried out properly.
Step 1: Identify the hazards
The best way to deal with a problem is to know what it is. When setting out on the risk assessment process, management needs to know what they’re facing.
A hazard is defined as something that can cause harm: in this case, violence at work. Employee input is crucial when trying to identify the safety problems connected to a particular task or location.
Examining records of previous incidents can identify hotspots where incidents are likely and this will also highlight the types of violence to which staff are subject.
Employers need to remember that even though employees may experience violence and aggressive behaviour, they may not necessarily want to report it.
Step 2: Who might be harmed and how?
Once the hazards have been identified, the employer needs to consider who is likely to be affected by them.
Where employees are in roles which require them to deal with the public, the risk of violence is most pronounced. Activities which involve the most risk are:
Acting in a controlling role, or representing authority
Delivering a service
Operating in the caring profession
Working in the education sector
Involvement with cash transactions
Carrying out delivery/collection of items
Particular groups of workers might be more at risk – lone workers, women, trainees, younger workers – they all have specific vulnerabilities which will need to be addressed in any risk assessment and safety procedures.
Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions
Once the risks have been identified, they need to be evaluated. The employer can do this by looking at what they are already doing, whether that is enough to reduce or eliminate the risks and if not, identify what else they need to do.
It’s important to get the opinions of employees – they may well bring insights that hadn’t occurred to management.
Remember that the law expects an employer to reduce the risks “as far as reasonably practicable.” It’s probably not a good idea to hope for the best when it comes to this phrase – legal advice will prove invaluable to avoid getting caught out later.
Step 4: Record your findings and implement them
Once the risk assessment has been carried out, the things that it has identified have to be recorded and put into practice. A nominated person will need to be appointed who will be responsible for ensuring that the actions identified are undertaken. That person needs to be competent and qualified enough to do so, as well as having sufficient seniority that what they need to do will be done, rather than overlooked or ignored by senior management.
If the employer has five or more employees, there’s a legal duty to record the significant findings of the risk assessment in writing. These findings will also have to be shared with employees.
It’s worth noting that if the employer holds a licence from a local authority or other supervising body, they may be asked to provide the risk assessment, so it’s a good idea to make sure staff know where it is.
The outcome of the risk assessment will also form the foundation of a robust and effective workplace violence policy. If the employer is unsure about their ability to draft a comprehensive policy, they should seek legal advice on the phraseology and terms to use.
Step 5: Review the risk assessment
This process isn’t a one-shot solution. The effectiveness of these steps needs to be monitored to ensure that they’re working. Employers need to put a review process into place to check regularly on whether the levels of violence have decreased, or the types of incidents have changed.
If something isn’t working, the employer will need to put further measures into place. This should also be done if a job changes – either through reorganisation or when a violent incident occurs.
Again, employees need to be consulted on this because their experience on the sharp end is invaluable.
What does the law say?
The main pieces of relevant legislation are:
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 Under Section 2 of the Act, employers have a legal duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their staff does of course extend to minimising the risk of harm, including psychological harm, from violence and abuse.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Employers must comply with the duty imposed by the Regulations and conduct a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of the foreseeable risks posed by work-related violence. They need to devise risk control arrangements, put them into practice and review them regularly to make sure they’re still fit for purpose.
The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (more commonly known as RIDDOR) Employers must let the enforcing authority know about any act of non-consensual physical violence done to a person at work which results in:
specified injury, or
incapacity for normal work for seven or more days.
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 can speak to their employer on matters that affect the health and safety of the workforce.
rradarstation is a resource available through the AXA MLP policy where policyholders can access rradar’s legal advisory team over the phone or by email and web portal that provides over 1,000 articles, step by step guidance sheets, forms, sample letters and templates to download relating to running a commercial business including Health and Safety topics - there is even a precautions checklist specifically relating to violence at work.