The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines workplace violence as: "Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in the circumstances relating to their work". This can include verbal abuse or threats as well as physical attacks.
Tackling violence & aggression at work
- Who is most at risk?
- Impact of workplace violence on businesses
- Top tips for tackling workplace violence
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 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 LGBT Britain Work Report shows that almost one in five LGBT employees has been the target of negative conduct from work colleagues. Furthermore, one in eight trans people were physically attacked by customers or colleagues in 2018.
Impact of workplace violence on businesses
Workplace violence can impact businesses in many 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 for tackling workplace violence
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 to calm things down, for example, by apologising for any delay or providing information.
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
Be sure you know the security systems in place at your place of work. This includes security screens, alarms, emergency codes or codewords, etc. - so you know what to do to protect yourself.
5. Use de-escalation techniques
These techniques will stop the incidents from getting worse. For example, talk in a low, calm voice. This technique encourages the aggressor to focus on the facts (being rational stops you from 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 is not tolerated.
7. If you are subject to violence at 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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