Violence and Aggression

Last reviewed on 17/04/2013 14:28

Whether you are a manager of frontline, staff Managing Occupational Violence in the Workplace will guide you through the process of risk assessing and managing aggression as well as signpost how best to support staff members after an incident. This page gives further advice on work-related violence and aggression and what can be done to assess the risks and protect staff from it. You will also find details of legal duties and responsibilities relating to work-related violence and links to further information.

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Case Studies

What is work-related violence?

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."

Violence can range from a life-threatening physical attack to verbal abuse. Verbal abuse and threats are the most common type of incident.

Agreeing on a definition is the first step in setting up a system to prevent, control and manage the issue of violence at work. The definition will help you decide what your policy on violence should cover.


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Risks and costs of work-related violence

Anyone whose job requires them to deal with the public can be at risk from violence. This can include employees engaged in giving a service, education, caring professions, cash transactions, delivery and collection, and controlling or representing authority.

The Scottish Justice and Crime Survey 2009, Section 4.9 estimated ‘among those adults who had jobs involving contact with the general public, verbal abuse in the workplace was more prevalent than physical abuse:

  • 35% had experienced either verbal abuse or physical abuse;
  • 34% had experienced verbal abuse;
  • seven per cent had experienced physical abuse, with 94% of these also experiencing verbal abuse;
  • six per cent had experienced both verbal and physical abuse;
  • 65% had not experienced any form of abuse.

There were some differences among those who had experienced verbal abuse in the workplace:

  • Females experienced verbal abuse more than males (37% compared with 32%);
  • 16-44 year olds experienced verbal abuse more than those aged 45 or older (37% compared with 31%).

Read more on Young workers’ experiences of abuse in public-facing jobs

The consequences of work-related violence can be wide ranging and include:

  • poor morale among staff and a poor image for the organisation
  • staff recruitment and retention become difficult
  • extra costs for absenteeism, higher insurance premiums and compensation payments
  • violence can cause pain, distress, disability and even death among employees
  • damage to employees' health through anxiety or stress.

Many lone workers face particular risks from violence and aggression at work. Read more on Lone Working


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Legal duties and obligations around work-related violence

As well as the moral duty of employers to protect employees and members of the public, General Health and Safety Legislation covers all employers and workplaces.

This includes carrying out a risk assessment for work, to assess and control the risks to employees from violence and aggression.

To risk assess for work-related violence:

  • think ahead and consider situations where violence and aggression could arise
  • consider who might be harmed and how. In particular, consider those working alone or those carrying out home visits. Are they in regular contact with the office? Can they call for help if problems arise? Do you have additional procedures for new clients/customers?
  • evaluate the risk
  • modify jobs and tasks to remove or lessen the risk of violence. For example, could the first meeting with a client be held in a public place?
  • Record your risk assessment and inform staff of your procedures and controls
  • check what you have done by monitoring and reviewing your assessment regularly.

Download Managing Occupational Violence and Aggression in the Workplace; Tools and Strategies. A guide for executive managers, workplace managers and staff in the front line.

Download Risk Assessment Form

Risk Assessment Form - Worked Example

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 Employers must notify their enforcing authority in the event of a reportable accident at work to an employee. This includes any act of non-consensual physical violence done to a person at work.

To view the full text of the above legislation online, please follow the links under Legislation.


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Workplace policies on aggression and violence

If your assessments identify a risk of violence or aggression, you should develop a policy for your workplace. A successful policy needs the support and co-operation of all staff, and may be written into your Safety Policy Statement, or be a stand-alone policy.

The policy should be monitored and reviewed.

A policy should be a clear and well-defined statement of your views on violence and aggression, and how you propose to tackle them. There should be recognition of the potential problem, and procedures set out to deal with all aspects of violence and aggression.

Training requirements should also be addressed.

All incidents should be investigated and actions taken to address any issues identified.


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Good practices around work-related violence

  • speak to staff regularly to hear if there are any ‘new’ problems
  • keep detailed records of related incidents and encourage staff to report ‘near misses’
  • think about training and supplying information to all staff on personal safety and how to diffuse difficult situations
  • look at the work environment and physical security of staff at the planning stage of any new work.


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Supporting victims of work-related violence

Any violent incident involving the workforce needs a quick response to avoid unnecessary distress:

  • a plan should be evolved to consider what should be done
  • think about debriefing, but remember, victims have different responses to violence and may not wish to talk immediately after the incident
  • specialist counselling may be required
  • persons who have witnessed an incident may also require support
  • there may be a requirement to have time off work to recover from an incident as people recover over differing amounts of time
  • in serious cases, legal help may be appropriate
  • other employees and witnesses may need guidance or further training to help them react appropriately in the future.


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Further information about work-related violence

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives

External resources

The Violence Reduction Unit's Action on Violence website is for practitioners working to reduce violence. There is also information for the public about the current anti-violence campaign that aims to tackle knife crime.

Safebet Alliance Voluntary Code of Safety and Security for Bookmakers with guidance on managing violence against staff working in betting shops

Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (external site) The USDAW website contains a number of guidance sheets on issues related to violence in the workplace, including a draft policy on the topic. Search the website using 'violence' as the keyword.

Victim Support Scotland (external site) Victim Support Scotland provides advice to victims of crime in Scotland. Their website includes a wealth of information on the subject and directory of local services that can help, such as counsellors and support groups.

Work-related Violence (external site) This mini-site from the Health and Safety Executive gives key facts and statistics about work-related violence, case studies from small and large organisations and links to further information and advice.

Tackling Violence at Work – GMB Union (PDF, 176KB external site) An excellent guide to tackling violence at work from the GMB Union, including a checklist on key areas to consider.

Violence at Work – A guide to Risk Prevention (PDF, 191KB - external site) A guide to help with assessment of risk from violence from the UNISON union.

It's not Part of the job-a Unison guide to tackling violence at work

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive

Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

Priced guidance from the Health and Safety Executive

Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:


→ View The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995 (RIDDOR) (external site)


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