Violence at work

Violence at work Safety Forward

An employer has a general duty of care to protect staff from threats and violence at work. 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. Physical assault is the most obvious one but work related violence can also take the form of non physical, but psychological damaging bullying, and these threats exist in all different types of workplaces.

Who is at most risk?

Violence at work can effect anyone but certain occupational groups tend to be more at risk from workplace violence. These occupations include:

  • Health care employees or those who dispense pharmaceuticals
  • Veterinary practices
  • Police, security, or prison officers
  • Social services employees, including crisis intervention and counselling services
  • Teachers or education providers
  • Housing inspectors
  • Public works employees
  • Retail employees
  • Sellers of alcohol (sale, or consumption on the premises)
  • Taxi or transit drivers


Employer obligation

Employers’ legal obligations under Common Law have been summarised by the HSE as a duty to take reasonable care to:

  1. Lay down a safe system at work
  2. Provide safe premises and/or place of work
  3. Provide safe plant and equipment



Assess the risks to workers (including the risk of foreseeable violence), decide how significant these risks are, prevent or control the risks, and develop a clear management plan. Employers are also encouraged to hold training sessions for this in order to orient all employees on workplace violence. These sessions should clarify for employees what counts as acts of violence and how to report them, as well as what to do in different situations in case they are alone.

Employers are advised to make changes to their workplaces in order to make them safer. Ideally, all workplaces should have video surveillance cameras, proper lighting, and alarm systems for transparency and ease of access.

Pre employment screening

Although there is no sure way to prevent all incidents of workplace violence, employers can substantially increase their odds of avoiding or mitigating workplace violence by implementing a thorough pre employment screening process to endeavour to learn about and understand as much as possible about an applicant before the person is hired.

A policy on violence

Having a policy and good procedures demonstrates commitment to tackling violence and ensuring the safety of all staff. The policy should make sure that all staff, including new and part-time employees, are aware of these procedures and policies and know what they are expected to do should an incident occur. Training staff and managers on how to implement the procedures and policies is imperative.

What should it cover?

It should cover the purpose of the policy, its scope and definitions of work-related violence, including the recognition that it is a health and safety issue and also a statement that violence will not be tolerated, that it is unacceptable and that it does not show failure of staff if it occurs. It’s important to show who is responsible for implementing the policy and procedures, for example managing directors, the board and staff and what action will be taken if staff or managers do not use the policies and procedures.

A good policy will show how to go about assessing the risks of work-related violence and where the risk assessment will be kept and what recording and reporting systems are in place. It should also include what support is available should a violence at work incident happen.


Whilst there is no specific legislation covering violence at work, the following legal requirements are applicable:

  • Health and Safety At Work etc Act 1974
  • Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999
  • Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR)
  • Safety Representative and Safety Committees Regulations 1977

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