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Advice on violence at work

Workplace violence can erupt anytime and anywhere, writes Jim O’Dwyer, Senior Consultant, AEGIS Protective Services.

(The March 2016 print issue of Professional Security magazine carries a couple of items on workplace violence.)

According to a poll, carried out by YouGov for the TUC, published on February 8, one in eight people have experienced violence at work – such as being pushed or spat on, or being punched or stabbed. Of the 1642 adults polled, one in five (20pc) who had experienced violence in their workplace said it had happened more than ten times. With more than 31 million people in employment, this means that nearly four million people have experienced violence at work at some point in their career.

Whilst everyone who works with members of the public is at risk of workplace related violence, working in certain occupations means an increased risk of service user aggression.

JobCentre risk

Implementing the government’s welfare reform programme (especially, imposing the associated ‘sanctions’ protocols) has been accompanied by a disturbing rise in the incidence of verbal and physical aggression from clients. In January 2014, the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) reported that attacks on JobCentre staff had more than doubled with hundreds of incidents of either verbal or physical assaults happening every month. More than 20,000 attacks were reported in 2013.

A recent attack to feature in the media in March 2015 was of benefits claimant, Gerald Taylor, 40, who hadn’t worked for 25 years; who brandished a knife and trashed a JobCentre after being told he would lose his payments if he didn’t try harder to get a job.

Primary prevention

More often than not, if things go wrong and someone gets hurt, it results in complaints, allegations, compensation claims and litigation. In the worst cases, it can also mean a threat of criminal prosecution. In such cases, an expert witness may be appointed to give their opinion as to the facts, so as to help to establish liability. I work as an associate of Safeguard Security Consultants, the nationally recognised, independent experts for Security Consultancy, Expert Witness and Litigation Services.

My area of expertise includes workplace related violence. When I commence an investigation, I always ask to see:

1. The organisation’s policy on Violence at Work
2. The Health and Safety Risk Assessment
3. The staff training records.

These three documents will generally provide an indication of the care and due diligence shown by the employer organisation to minimise the risks. Where no policy exists and or where the risk assessment has not been conducted by a suitably competent person or perhaps has not incorporated any consultation with staff, then liability can be quickly established on the basis of ‘res ipsa loquitor’ ie. ‘the facts speak for themselves’, meaning that the case could be decided without any facts of an incident even needing to be heard!

I would therefore urge employer organisations to ensure that ‘primary prevention measures’ are in place, prior to investing in training staff. At the top of the list should be the production and publication of a suitable Policy Document that sets out the organisation’s arrangements for achieving its policy aims. (See Download: Draft/Template Policy on Violence at Work).

Next comes risk assessment. This is something usually delegated to branch managers. But, without suitable training can they be expected to be ‘competent’ to conduct the assessment and implement suitable precautionary measures and processes? Lacking the required ‘competence’ can shatter the integrity of the document! The risk assessment needs to take into account all the foreseeable types of workplace violence – from verbal abuse and threats (made in person, or by phone or social media), to harassment including ‘stalking’, to holding an employee hostage, to physical assaults and indecent assaults. It needs to be done right. It’s the risk assessment that identifies the measures needed to control the risks – including workplace procedures and protocols eg. for lone working or meeting a client who is known to have a history of violence. The risk assessment also determines the content of the staff training.


AEGIS is approved by the Institute of Employability Professionals (IEP) and offers a training course for branch managers and supervisors that’s been specifically developed for employability professionals.

(Download: “Managing the Risk of Violence at Work” course outline.)

This one-day, certificated course provides all the tools, information and guidance they’ll need, including templates of risk assessments and incident report forms and effective strategies for violence reduction and incident management.

In addition, we also supply a one-day, certificated training course for ‘frontline’ employability staff, including receptionists.

(Download: “Aggression Awareness and Prevention” course outline).

Visit the AEGIS website or contact: Jim O’Dwyer, AEGIS Protective Services. Phone: 01202 773736.


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