What is the HSE guidance for employers on violence at work?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) urges employers to adopt a 'four-step management process' to control violence:

Step 1: Carry out a violence risk assessment. This includes consulting with employees and keeping good records of incidents. Employers should assess the risk of violence by:

  • looking at your job; and
  • identifying both the level of risks you face, and the frequency with which they are likely to occur.

Staff surveys can highlight key safety hazards. In a survey of 12 shop robberies, USDAW, the shopworkers' union, found that they had all occurred between 5pm and 7pm. The results led to strengthened security and staff protection during later opening times.

Step 2: Decide if you might be harmed, and how. Preventive measures to think about could include:

  • safe procedures if you do home visits, interview clients or patients, deal with abusive phone calls, or handle cash;
  • procedures for working alone (e.g. is it necessary to leave you alone for long periods? If so, what training are you given about working without supervision?);
  • procedures on reporting incidents, with clear guidelines requiring you to report all incidents of violence, threats, abuse and 'near misses' to an allocated line manager;
  • crisis management procedures (e.g. are personal alarms/panic buttons provided? How do you contact a supervisor, or the police?);
  • improving facilities for the public in waiting or queuing areas, such as refreshments, adequate seating, play facilities, reading material and information on queue times;
  • making sure your employer displays prominent notices spelling out that staff are supported and deserve respect, and that abuse of staff will not be tolerated;
  • secure areas (e.g. limiting public access to staff areas, or ensuring that public car parks and access ways are well lit);
  • CCTV monitoring of public spaces (in the right situations, these can help to reduce the risk of violence, but cameras should be introduced in consultation with reps and only in compliance with the guidance in the Information Commissioner’s CCTV Code of Practice);
  • training (i.e. what training is provided in agreed personal safety procedures and how to manage specific situations you may face? How effective is it?); and
  • support provided if you suffer abuse or a violent incident. This should include immediate support from your supervisor or manager, time away from your job and specialist counselling if you need it, especially if you suffer post-traumatic stress.

Step 3: Implement an action programme arising from the issues identified in the risk assessment. This includes training on safe systems of work, raising the level of safety awareness and encouraging you to report incidents.

Step 4: Regular checks should be made on working arrangements, through a health and safety committee and regular consultation with safety reps where a union is recognised. Your employers should monitor incident records and, if violence is still an issue, take further action.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.