Created on: 14 Jul 2023

The risk of a violent attack at work is a serious occupational hazard. The EIS does not accept that a risk of a violent attack at work is something which is part of the job.

Defining Violence at Work

Defining what is meant by a violent incident is difficult. Clearly it must include incidents which cause death or physical injury but threats, especially with a weapon or an implement, are also important even if no injury occurs.

Constant verbal abuse can cause health damage by being a source of stress. Sometimes violence is not limited to the workplace but follows workers to their homes or takes the form of attacks on their property such as the car they use to undertake their job.

The HSE defines violent incidents as those:

  • requiring medical assistance (major injury);
  • requiring only first aid (minor injury);
  • involving a threat with a weapon/object but causing no physical injury; or
  • involving verbal abuse.

Sexual and racial harassment should also often be dealt with as violence at work. People are often reluctant to report incidents for a number of reasons.

Some fear it could be seen as their own failure - their mishandling of a situation and their professional incompetence. Some do not want the attention that a report would bring and, given the absence of counselling and support for victims, see no point in reporting it. Members must be encouraged to report all violent incidents otherwise the scale of the problem remains hidden.

The Law

There is no specific mention of violence in HASAWA, but all the general duties placed on employers by the Act still apply to the control of this risk.

Under the Act employers must provide:

  • safe systems of work (ie safe methods of working);
  • safe workplaces;
  • a safe working environment; and
  • information, instruction and training for staff.

And the Management Regs state that employers must provide a ‘suitable and sufficient’ assessment of any risks to the health and safety of their employees.

RIDDOR 1995 requires employers to report to the HSE physical injury due to an assault arising out of or in connection with work. The new requirement only applies acts of violence which result in physical injury. Further details on reporting and recording acts of violence which result in physical injury can be found on page 201 below.

Risk Assesment

Risk assessments should cover violence at work as some employers do not recognise that personal attacks on staff are risks and fail to include this in the process of risk assessment. The HSE has issued a number of enforcement notices on public sector employers requiring them to carry out risk assessments and to reduce the risk of violence.

Some violent incidents cannot be predicted but many are foreseeable and therefore employers have a responsibility to identify these and seek to prevent them.

Where a real risk of violence exists, employers must, to meet their legal responsibilities:

  • identify such hazards to the safety of workers arising from the jobs which they are asked to do;
  • plan measures to remove hazards and reduce risks; and
  • train and inform all workers affected.

Where violence is a problem, employers should make a commitment to prevent foreseeable incidents of violence and this commitment, which must come from the highest level in management, must be translated into practical arrangements.

All workers at risk must have confidence that their employer not only deplores acts of violence towards them but has developed a strategy with which to prevent, control or minimise the risks involved.

A Preventive Strategy

The effectiveness of any measure can only be assessed by its relevance to any one situation where violence is a possible outcome. The question of violence must be taken into account when decisions are being made about such issues as:

  • designing and altering buildings;
  • setting staffing levels;
  • job design and re-design;
  • working practices;
  • communication channels and procedures;
  • recording of incidents at work;
  • assessing training needs; and
  • establishing an occupational health service.

Employers should develop practical policies which include:

  • investigation of risk areas and groups;
  • proper reporting procedures;
  • the development of safe systems of work;
  • the creation of safer workplaces;
  • information and training for all workers at risk;
  • examination of the relevance of training and any training gaps;
  • counselling and support for the victim and their colleagues; and
  • effective monitoring.

Some employers have produced policies on the prevention of violence but many of these are merely procedures informing their workers what to do after violence has happened.

Others have produced policies which include detailed arrangements on how they are going to protect their staff from the risk of foreseeable violence.

Compensation for Victims

Compensation can be obtained through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. No legal advice or representation is necessary but if legal or other advice is sought the CICA will not pay the costs of the services.

However, the EIS provides full legal support for members throughout the CICA application process. For an application to be considered, a person must have been: 

  • a victim of a crime of violence or injured in some other way covered by the Scheme (includes assaults and sexual offences, attacks by dogs, arson attacks, attacks by anyone who was not responsible under criminal law eg. young person or insane);
  • physically or mentally injured as a result;
  • in England, Scotland or Wales at the time when the injury was caused; and
  • injured seriously enough to qualify for at least the minimum award available under the Tariff.

An incident should be reported to the police as soon as possible after the event. It is important that a teacher or lecturer who has been the victim of an assault reports this to the police if this has not been done by the employer. To gain compensation from CICA the assault must be reported to the police.

Action for Safety Reps

Safety Reps should:

  1. Encourage all members to use the employer’s violent incident report forms following every violent incident.
  2. Where keep a record of incidents as this can provide valuable evidence it there are on-going problems which are not addressed.
  3. Following a serious incident or in response to a series of incidents request that the employer carries out a risk assessment.
  4. If a member is injured ensure that the employer’s reporting procedures have been followed and that the injury is recorded in the Accident Book.
  5. Ensure that the Local Association or Branch is made award of all incidents resulting in injury.
  6. Where a member has been injured advice should be given to consider making a claim for personal injury. Claim forms, which are used to start this process, can be obtained from Local Associations, Area Offices or from the Employment Relations Department at EIS Headquarters.
  7. Remind the member that the EIS provide a Victim Support telephone helpline for members who are the victims of violence:
    Tel: 0843 2084571