With an Estimated 694,000 Incidents of Workplace Violence, How Do You Reduce the Risk?

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’.

Over half, 54%, of incidents were carried out by an unknown offender and in 32% of 333,000 assaults, the offender was under the influence of alcohol. Yet, the risk of work-related violence is often disregarded. Employees who are face-to-face with the public are most at risk of verbal abuse, threats or being physically attacked. Work-related violence should be managed as all health and safety issues are, under correct legislation.

What Causes Violence and Who is Most at Risk?

Violent behaviour can be as a result of frustration, anger, conflict, misunderstanding but it can also be impossible to know why a person acted in that way. Staff reactions, particularly unsympathetic behaviour, can aggravate tensions. But poor service or products does not justify violence.

Employees who deal with people in a variety of circumstances like health and social care, protective services and retail staff are more likely to encounter work-related violence. An individual’s gender, race, age, disability and religious belief can also influence their likelihood of being assaulted.

The risk of work-related violence increases when employees in any sector:

  • Provide a service, care or education.
  • Handle valuables, money or medication.
  • Represent an authority.
  • Work alone, after normal hours, under pressure, in a crowded workplace, in a workplace with inadequate facilities or are mobile.
  • Work with people who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, are emotionally or mentally unstable or under stress.

What Impact can Violence Have?

It can deplete morale, harm employees’ health, increase absenteeism and insurance premiums, damage business reputation, staff recruitment and retention levels as well as involve compensation payouts.

What do Employers Need to Do?

Employers should follow the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) four-stage management process.

Find Out If It’s a Problem

Conduct a risk assessment to find out if violence is a problem at your workplace. It might require both generic and individual risk assessments looking at the whole organisation and potentially violent individuals. Employers have a duty to consult their employees or safety representatives on health and safety.

Use a questionnaire or informal chat, ask your staff about their experiences with work-related violence. Maintain a record of all incidents and any near misses:

  • What happened.
  • The victim, the assailant and any witnesses.
  • The outcome.
  • The location.

Tolerating violence is not part of anyone’s job, employees should be encouraged to report all incidents. Classify incidents by the outcome like; major injury, emotional shock or out-patient treatment.

Incident records are useful to identify causes of violence and where preventative measures are most needed. In a large organisation, this can be coordinated between departments.

Decide How to Act on What You’ve Found Out

Identify who might be at risk and who might pose a risk, decide how to act and detail it in your risk assessment. Look at your existing procedures and how they might prompt violence, any changes or preventative measures should be informed by your risk assessment, appropriate to the risk and needs of your business:

The Environment

Concentrate on what you can change and will have an impact in your working environment. This might be more physical security, better lighting, quality control of products and services and access to improved facilities.


Training can help mitigate the risk of violence and should be available to all staff, relevant to their role. At the most basic level, all employees should be trained to identify and cope with signs of aggression. As well as, have access to information on triggers and individuals with a history of violence.

Staff should know what is expected of them in all incidents, have the right skills to manage confrontation, understand safe working practices and post-incident arrangements. Refresher training should be undertaken periodically. 

 The Job

Look at all job roles in the business, any vulnerabilities that could trigger violence must be reviewed. Any changes made, whether it’s introducing a lone working policy, checking client credentials or swapping cash for tokens, shouldn’t create a perception your employees are concerned about violence, this can have the opposite effect.

The Procedures

Any existing working procedures that are a hazard, if opening and closing times are too predictable, your emergency procedures are not in-depth or your complaints policy is not fair, they must be evaluated and revised.

Record the Findings, Review and Update the Assessment

The significant findings of your assessment should be recorded:

  • Hazards.
  • Anyone who poses a risk.
  • Anyone who is at risk.
  • High-risk areas.
  • Existing preventative measures in place.
  • Evaluation of remaining risks.
  • Any additional measures needed.
  • The responsible person for dealing with violence.
  • The date things are carried out and reviewed.

Risk assessments must be reviewed regularly. If a violent incident happens, there are changes to the workplace or a job role you’ll need to review your assessment as soon as possible.

Act on Your Decisions

Based on the risk assessment, a policy should be developed for managing work-related violence. Staff must be aware of the policy, willing to follow procedures and raise the level of safety.

Developing a Policy

The policy should be agreed from the top-down, monitored and reviewed regularly demonstrating commitment to preventing violence and maintaining the welfare of employees.

The policy should include:

  • A definition of work-related violence.
  • Acknowledgement of the problem and promise to introduce preventative measures.
  • A statement of support to all staff and commitment to zero-tolerance on violence.
  • The procedure for communication with staff and any safety representatives.
  • The support available after an incident.
  • Classification of unacceptable behaviour by employees, service users and the public.
  • The responsible person(s) for health, security and safety.
  • The system for reporting, classifying and recording incidents.
  • Grievance and disciplinary procedures for violent behaviour (Employment tribunals are legally required to use the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) Code of Practice.)
  • The process when a criminal case needs to be brought.
  • Training of all staff, managers and high-level personnel on violence, recognising and managing it.
  • Practical preventative measures to minimise or eliminate the risk.

All staff should have a copy of the policy and know their responsibilities to comply with it.

System for Reporting Incidents

All workplaces should have a reporting system to prepare employees and encouraged them to report anything that has caused them distress. Reporting procedures must be easy to follow and suitable to the environment.

Taking an Informal Approach

It is possible to sometimes deal with the problem informally. For instance, having a discussion with a person that is not aware of the effect their behaviour is having to help them to better understand and make the necessary changes. However, it requires careful consideration; an informal approach is not a quick fix.

Installing Security Equipment

Security equipment should be easy to use, fit the business, the building’s use and the geographical location. It mustn’t be excessive or impractical. Staff using security equipment must be trained to do so, it must be on a need to know basis. All equipment must undergo regular maintenance.

Contact your local Police Crime Prevention Officer for advice if you don’t have in-house security specialists.

Lone Workers

Lone working is to be avoided where possible, lone workers shouldn’t be at more risk than other employees. Anyone working alone must be physically and mentally capable for all responsibilities of the job. They must be trained for all situations, understand the risks, know safety precautions and following emergency procedures. They should have regular contact with a supervisor.

Workload, Scheduling and Facilities

A heavy, unpredictable workload can cause fatigue inhibiting an individual’s ability to cope with violent behaviour. Junior, new or inexperienced employees must not be left alone to cope with a violent incident. Staffing levels, length of shifts and available facilities in a public facing role can also affect the risk of violence.

Public facilities should be comfortable, it might be necessary to improve waiting or queuing areas, providing refreshments, ensuring there is ample seating and child-friendly amenities. Employers should put up notices to advise the public of their zero-tolerance policy.

Personal Safety

Individuals must take responsibility for their personal safety, think about difficult situations, how you reacted and if it happened again what would you do differently. If you don’t feel safe at work tell your safety representative or line manager. If you have been assaulted contact the police immediately.

If employees wear a name badge, make it policy to only use first names or create a made-up one. The use of panic buttons, personal alarms and self-defence training aren’t replacements for a well-planned management policy.

Providing Support

Employers are legally responsible for the safety and welfare of their workers; the right support and assistance must be available if a violent incident occurs to help staff with the recovery process. Staff must be able to find in your violence management policy, what’s the procedure for initial response, long term support and what they’re expected to do.

The Effect of A Violent Incident

A violent incident can influence both physical and mental health, in an individual’s personal and professional life. The effects can present at any time, it could be immediately after an incident or even when a significant amount of time has passed and include:

  • Mistrust of strangers and wariness of customers.
  • Fear and anxiety attacks that the incident could repeat, about returning to work, dealing with customers or that the assailant knows who they are.
  • Feelings of anger, vulnerability, loneliness and defeat.
  • Guilt that they are responsible for the incident.
  • Low confidence, poor concentration and memory. But they will often vividly remember the incident.
  • They will probably need to talk about their situation.
  • Physical symptoms likely are; sleeping difficulties, loss of appetite, trembling or crying.

The First Steps

Employers should have an informal meeting with any staff members involved in an incident to assess next steps. Anyone involved should know it’s ok to feel how they feel, and it is an entirely normal reaction to need support. This will stop a person spiralling, losing their self-esteem or being unable to return to work.

Other first steps should include an incident report, available support, recovery measures and legal advice on proceedings against the assailant. This should not be an information-gathering process. Follow up a month after the incident to put into action any additional support, updates on any police action or any preparation for a court case. Seek the advice of qualified external agencies where necessary to ensure you’re providing the right help and legislative information.

The Long Haul

Recovery is not a linear process; some people will require more time and help. Counselling in-house or externally, allows an individual to fully express their emotions in an independent and confidential environment. Suggest they keep a diary to help them in this process. If you operate counselling in-house don’t assume all staff members have the necessary highly tuned interpersonal skills. From every incident, lessons must be learnt to prevent it happening again.

In the Case of a Criminal Act

The police and any necessary medical help should be contacted if a criminal act occurs on your premises. Criminal proceedings can often bring back memories of an incident, negatively impacting mental and physical health, help should be available for any staff as a witness or victim.

Reflect on Your Decisions

Regularly look back at your decisions and actions, ask your employees to do the same to check everything is effectively reducing the risk of violence. Incident records can identify any persisting issues and changes you need to make. It might require an updated risk assessment.

Monitoring All Measures

Preventative measures must be monitored to ensure resources are used effectively, involve employees in the process where possible. This includes the management policy, systems and training.

If a preventative measure has had no obvious benefit to reduce work-related violence, you must revisit the problem and look at modifying the existing measure or introduce a new one. Small businesses can take an informal slant, just by keeping in contact with their employees they can establish if anything needs to change. However, in a larger organisation creating a small group made up of staff, managers and safety representatives is likely to be more efficient.

The Law

Employers have a duty of care to all their workers, these are the main pieces of health and safety law that applies to work-related violence:

The UK’s law enforcement authorities are responsible for violations of criminal law. The HSE and local authorities are responsible for enforcement where there is an infringement on Health and Safety legislation.

Visit ACAS for free, impartial advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice.

Visit the HSE’s work-related violence section for further guidance and more resources.

Alternatively try the GOV.UK website, they have a search tool to find everything easily like getting support as a victim of crime page.

Victim Support is an independent charity, giving people affected by crime or traumatic events the support they need and respect they deserve. They have a whole host of resources and a free support line.

About APG

The Asset Protection Group comprises a group of Fire & Security companies with shared ownership and one common goal, protecting your most important assets. As a collective group, we look to offer protection to your assets to assist you with your ongoing success within your own business.