Workplace violence can be an everyday reality in some professions. We have some tips to spot the red flags, reduce risk and deal with it when it flares up.
What is workplace violence?
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines workplace violence as: "Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work". This can include verbal abuse or threats as well as physical attacks.
In 2019/2020 there were 688,000 incidents of violence at work, including assaults and threats. According to the HSE, 38% of those incidents resulted in injury.
Who is most at risk?
In the US, many workers report having been victims of workplace violence each year according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Research has identified several factors that may increase the risk of violence for some workers at certain worksites.
- Exchanging money with the public
- Working with volatile and unstable people
- Working alone or in isolated areas
- Providing services and care
- Working where alcohol is served
- Time of day and location of work (e.g. night or high crime areas)
Among the professions that were higher at risk were delivery drivers, healthcare professionals, public service workers, customer service agents, law enforcement personnel and those who work alone or in small groups.
The pandemic has also been a major factor in the rise of workplace violence. The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) says retail employees have been assaulted, threatened or abused at least once a week on average since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, compared to once a fortnight in 2019. In many cases, the violence stems from customers being asked to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Impact of workplace violence on businesses
Workplace violence can impact businesses in a number of ways including staff turnover, damage to your reputation and your staff's health and safety.
Violence and abuse can lead to work-related stress which can have serious and long-term impacts on physical and mental health. Each case of stress-related ill health leads to an average of 31 working days lost, which has major financial implications for businesses.
Top tips to tackle aggression and violence at work
1. Be aware of potential flashpoints
Certain situations may trigger violence or aggressive outbursts - such as a delay or hold-up, communicating a difficult or negative decision (turning someone's application down), stress (having no choice), frustration (a lack of information), resentment (a perception of no rights), and so on.
2. Act quickly to defuse the situation
Don't ignore trigger points or things may deteriorate further. Instead, step up - for example, by apologising for any delay or providing information - to calm things down.
3. Avoid situations that make you more vulnerable
Follow company rules on accompanied visits or meet in a public place if you visit vulnerable people with a history of violence. And try not to travel, carry cash or medication or handle complaints alone.
4. Familiarise yourself with security systems & measures
including security screens, alarms, emergency codes or codewords, etc - so you know what to do.
5. Use de-escalation techniques to stop incidents getting worse
For example, you should talk in a low, calm voice; encourage the aggressor to focus on the facts (being rational stops you being too emotional); use positive body language; and - if it's safe to do so - stop them 'playing to a crowd' by going somewhere more private.
6. Use awareness posters to set ground rules
Have a zero-tolerance approach and warn people upfront via posters that abusive and violent behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
7. If you are subject to violence of work, tell your manager
It's not usually your fault so don't be embarrassed to speak out. Share your experiences so your colleagues can protect themselves too!
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