Understanding Hazards – Aggression and Violence

Work-related violence occurs when someone is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.  Violence (which includes verbal abuse, threats or physical attacks) can come from people you know, as well as strangers.

Your risk of being exposed to violence depends a lot on your occupation.  If your work brings you into contact with the public, you’re at a higher risk of attack, especially if you:

  • handle money – security and protective services
  • work with violent people – prison officers deal with complaints – receptionists
  • have a duty to interact with the public – ambulance staff, police
  • provide care, advice or information – nurses and care workers
  • work alone – bus drivers, ticket collectors
  • work unsociable hours – catering staff.

As well as occupation, the circumstances and situations of your work affect your chances of suffering aggression and violence.  Working alone, for example, increases your vulnerability.

Physical attacks and verbal abuse

Physical attacks are dangerous, but serious or persistent verbal abuse can be a significant problem too, as it can damage an employee’s health through anxiety and stress.

Verbal abuse is more common than physical attacks and can cause psychological symptoms that can lead to physical symptoms.

Psychological symptoms can include:

  • insomnia
  • stress
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • loss of confidence
  • agoraphobia
  • thoughts of self-harm
  • guilt

As a duty holder, you’ll need to identify whether aggression and violence are problems for you and your team.  Minimise the risks of violence to you and your staff by:

  • providing training and information to help employees identify the early signs of aggression and avoid it or deal with it.
  • improving public waiting areas, information about delays and physical security measures, such as video cameras, alarm systems and security doors.
  • introducing changes to the way your team works – such as limiting the amount of cash on the premises by using cheques, credit cards and tokens, banking money more frequently, checking client credentials for meeting away from the workplace, making sue that employees keep in touch when they’re working away from base.
  • setting up a system for reporting, investigating and monitoring any instances of violence, so that you can make more improvements if appropriate.  The reporting system needs to be easily accessible – for example, an answerphone service.

 Encourage members of your team to:

  •  raise concerns about the risk of violence
  • discuss workplace precautions with you
  • report any attack, however minor, to you.  This should include an account of what happened, details of the victim, perpetrator and any witnesses, the outcome and details of the location and nature of the incident.

Did you know…

The 2015 Eurofound survey of over 43,000 workers in 35 European countries revealed that 32 per cent reported being exposed to adverse social behaviour in the workplace.