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Zero tolerance towards violence in the workplace

Violence of any form is unacceptable and hopefully few of us will ever encounter it.

Unfortunately, there may be rare occasions when we could face such situations and it is important to know what to do.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related violence as: “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”.

This definition includes verbal abuse and threats as well as physical attacks. Health and safety law applies where it is foreseeable that a risk of violence and/or aggression may arise out of, or in connection with, the work activity. Incidents not arising out of, or in connection with, work activity are not covered by health and safety legislation and are therefore beyond HSE’s remit.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) recognises that everyone has the right to a world of work free from violence and harassment. According to the ILO the rates of violence and harassment (both physical and psychological) can rise during a health crisis (such as the COVID-19 pandemic). In addition, organisational change, especially where work has had to be reorganised or the physical work environment has been changed (as has happened during the pandemic) can be factors that increase risk.

An image showing a woman wearing a headset looking stressed at a desk

Work-related violence and aggression is an area of growing concern, as incidents can negatively impact on the physical and psychological health of those affected.

Whilst violence and aggression can potentially affect any employee within the workplace, certain services are known to be more at risk such as, Care at Home, Housing, Education and Waste Services.

According to the ILO, work situations can increase the risk of violence and aggression at work especially in relation to third parties. These include working alone, working in contact with the public, working with people in distress, working with valuables and cash handling, and working in isolated or remote locations, at evening and/or night. HSE notes that whilst lone working does not always mean a higher risk of violence, it does make workers more vulnerable.

Incidents are likely to affect overall wellbeing, sense of self-esteem and dignity. Physical health impacts might include injuries, cuts or bruises. Mental health effects may include anxiety, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder, and potential for increase in suicide risk. Individuals may feel frightened, sad, powerless, angry or helpless, incur problems sleeping and find themselves suffering from chronic fatigue. Individuals may also suffer loss of income if having to take time away from work following an incident.

In addition to impacting on the individual, violence and aggression can also have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of others, such as those who witness the incident (colleagues, patients or clients) and on the victim’s family and friends (who may find it challenging to provide support).

North Ayrshire Council separates Aggression and Violence Incidents into the following three categories:

  • Physical violence
  • Threatening or intimidating behaviour
  • Verbal abuse

If you find yourself involved in an aggression and violence incident, please report this to your line manager immediately or submit an incident report into the new Assure Incident Management System.

For independent advice, please contact Corporate Health & Safety.

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