Frontline staff most likely to face work-related violence

Working with the public can now be identified as one of the biggest risk factors for work-related violence.

Public facing work is now the biggest risk factor for experiencing work-related violence and aggressionWorkers in public-facing sectors such as retail, public transport and healthcare have reported frequent and sometimes very serious abuse in recent years.

In fact, the British Retail Consortium have reported that violence and abuse against their staff almost doubled from 450 incidents per day in 2019-20 to more than 850 recorded in 2021-22.

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) says that work-related violence can pose a “real risk” to occupational health and safety and the wellbeing of staff.

Those who experience work-related violence and aggression can suffer serious physical injuries as well as feelings of anxiety about returning to work following an abusive incident. This, in turn, leads to increased levels of “absenteeism, unsafe behaviours, loss of confidence and work-related stress.”

As well as impacting individual workers, IOSH warns that instances of work-related violence can also have a negative impact on the wider business, with other employees likely to feel distressed or unsafe and high levels of staff turnover and absences impacting business productivity and finances.

The Executive Chairperson of Iceland Foods, Richard Walker, confirms that he receives weekly reports of serious incidents, saying “colleagues are being slapped, punched, and threatened with a range of weapons including hammers, firearms, and hypodermic needles.”

Healthcare workers face high levels of work-related violence

Healthcare workers are experiencing increasingly high levels of work-related violence and abuseThe UK’s healthcare workers are also facing high levels of abuse at work.

In 2018, the government announced a strategy to tackle workplace violence against healthcare staff after incidents reached a five-year high, with 1 in 7 healthcare professionals being attacked in their workplace in 2017-18.

Despite this, the issue of work-related violence still looms large in healthcare, with 15% of NHS staff affected according to the most recent national survey of the workforce.

Control measures needed for work-related violence

Work-related violence and aggression falls under the realm of workplace health and safety.

Employers have a legal duty to manage risks to the health, safety and wellbeing of their employees at work. This includes the risk of abuse. They must assess the risks to their workforce and implement suitable and sufficient control measures to minimise these risks.

IOSH recommends that such measures could include:

  • A demonstrably enforced zero-tolerance policy towards violence and aggression
  • Cash free systems
  • Individual risk assessments of patients and people using care services
  • Prohibition of lone working in high risk sectors, and suitable safety checks being put in place for when it is necessary

The successful prosecution and rehabilitation of offenders who commit criminal assaults is also an important part of risk control.

IOSH suggests that physical safety measures in the workplace could also include:

  • Improved patient waiting areas and times in healthcare settings to prevent a build-up of tension
  • Spaces designed to create physical barriers between employees and customers or service users
  • Installation of panic buttons and the use of cameras and security guards to act as a deterrent.

Guidance for dealing with work-related violence

Companies need to ensure they have suitable control measures for dealing with work-related violence and aggressionTo be termed as work-related, violence and aggression must be in connection with a work activity. This could include violence from members of the public, customers, clients, patients, people receiving care and support, or students towards someone while they are doing their job.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides up-to-date practical guidance for dealing with work-related violence and aggression. This includes examples of ways to prevent work-related violence for different industries, such as retail, education, social care and transport.

The guidance also includes general control measures that employers may need to consider to help prevent violence and aggression at work. This includes:

  • Ensuring good visibility throughout the workplace, with adequate lighting to prevent blind spots and ensure workers and others can be seen
  • Identifying places where tension could develop, such as by implementing a suitable queuing system where appropriate
  • Installing security measures like CCTV, trained security personnel, body-worn cameras, alarm systems and building security
  • Displaying signs that remind people to treat each other with respect, and that any abuse to workers will not be tolerated
  • Ensuring good communication between employers and workers
  • Working closely with others, such as the police, local authorities and local community groups
  • Raising awareness with the public to target specific forms of violence
  • Considering how workers engage with the public and what elements of their work might trigger people to act aggressively. This could mean proactively managing customer expectations with clear information about issues such as delays
  • Effectively managing lone working by making arrangements to keep in touch with people who work away from their base, for example using mobile phones and personal alarms
  • Ensuring that you maintain adequate staffing levels to enable you to manage violence and respond quickly to any incidents

The HSE provides advice and guidance about de-escalation techniques that could be utilised to try to prevent work-related violence and aggression.

Training is key to tackle work-related abuse

The HSE says that training “can provide workers with appropriate skills to reduce or diffuse potential incidents,” and that it should be available to everyone who may be at risk, including cleaners and maintenance workers and temporary or agency staff.

Training is a key control measure for the risk of work-related violence and aggressionWorkers should be trained at a level which is appropriate to the needs of their work activities. Where workers face a significant risk of physical violence at work, they may need additional training in skills such as physical intervention techniques.

Employers should ensure they are regularly holding refresher training to ensure workers’ skills remain up to date, and that they regularly review their training needs and evaluate training courses for effectiveness.

Ultimately, work-related violence and aggression should never just be accepted as part of someone’s job, and it’s important that those who may face abuse at work are properly protected and supported, with more done to tackle and eradicate violent incidents.

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading national training provider delivering courses in subjects such as health and safetyfirst aidfire safetyfood safetymental healthhealth and social care and more.

Work-related abuse can severely impact workers' health, safety and wellbeing and make them feel stressed and demotivatedTheir workplace health and safety training includes awards in Health and SafetyConflict Resolution and Personal Safety, Managing and Assessing Risk, Lone Working and Accident and Incident Investigation.

They have previously worked with organisations to develop bespoke training for them in subjects as such Hostile Situations, Conflict Resolution and Personal Safety and De-escalation and Breakaway Techniques.

FRT can also provide specialist mental health training courses, such as Understanding Mental HealthMental Health Awareness in the WorkplaceManaging StressAnxiety and Phobias AwarenessSelf-Harm Awareness and Suicide Awareness.

They can also provide qualified, approved trainers to deliver accredited Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training courses, including the Adult, Youth and Lite versions.

A trainer from FRT says:

“No one should have to endure violence or aggression while carrying out their everyday working activities. It’s vitally important that employers assess and address the risks of work-related violence and aggression for their workforce and that they are able to respond appropriately and effectively if any incidents of violence and aggression do occur.”

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to