Violence may be considered to be any incident in which a person at work is verbally abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of the public, client, customer or service user in circumstances relating to his or her employment. This definition from the HSE relates to external sources. Where an employee suffers violence as a result of internal conflicts, harassment and bullying, this would be considered as an internal source. In terms of a health & safety strategy, we are concerned mainly with the former; the latter is an Human Resources issue.

Violence at work has received increasing interest over the last decade. High profile cases have been reported in the media and publicity surrounding initiatives to reduce risks of violence in the workplace has helped to raise awareness of the issue among the general public, the media, employers, trade unions and the government.


The Health and Safety Executive, the government agency with responsibility for monitoring violence at work, has been producing guidelines on the prevention of workplace violence since the mid-1980s. In 2000, the Health and Safety Executive launched a three-year programme aimed at reducing the number of incidents of work-related violence by ten per cent.

VIOLENCE “All assaults or threats which occurred whilst the victim was working and were perpetrated by members of the public.”


This was the definition used during the British Crime Survey (BCS).

“Any incident where an employee is abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of public during the course of his/her employment.”

 HSE – Preventing Violence to Retail Staff

Violence to employees can cause pain, distress and even disability or death. Physical attacks are an obvious danger. However, serious or persistent verbal abuse can be a significant problem too, as it can cause damage to employees’ health through anxiety and stress.

These tips are intended to help front line staff to further reduce the risk of becoming victims of violence and other crime. Much of this is common sense, unfortunately it is not common practice. It is important to examine these tips in the context of your workplace and for them to become ‘habits’.


This is not intended as a definitive list, and it is important that risk assessments of the role and tasks performed are the start point for any guidance. It is also important for  each workplace to involve staff in developing this guidance so that it responds directly to their working situation. This process will make the advice more meaningful and it will be more likely that staff will adopt it.



· Consider the layout of the building and how you could make a quick exit if you needed to

· Position yourself for best vision of the door

· Consider security at the office and especially arrangements when working outside normal hours – remember, security in the everyone’s responsibility!

· Identify places of safety around the building and nearby

· Ensure you can access an outside-line telephone

· Plan your travel to and from work carefully and link up with colleagues

· If safe and appropriate, challenge anyone you don’t recognise ; “Can I help you?” is all you need , and perfectly polite

· Be polite and helpful on the telephone – you or one of your colleagues could come face to face with this person later

· If you have to end an abusive call, do so in a controlled, assertive manner

· Communicate any concerns you have over procedures or working practice to your employer, and offer solutions

· Report all violent incidents and harassment of any form, whether from customers or colleagues


· Inform colleagues of your meeting and consider asking one to be present

· Tell reception and security staff where appropriate

· Prepare the meeting room and clear objects/potential weapons

· Ensure you position with access to exits and panic alarms

· Think through exit strategies and ways to terminate the meeting

· Put your visitors at ease and make them feel welcome

· Be prepared for the meeting and have the necessary information/paperwork to avoid upset

· Inform your manager of any problems so that they can prepare for repercussions

Unplanned Meetings

· Ask reception/colleagues to establish the reason for the visit, the number of visitors and their mood

· Assess the situation and meet the visitors in an area where colleagues can see you

· If you decide to go ahead with the meeting ask for a couple of minutes to find a room and follow meetings guidance

· If unable or unwilling to hold the meeting consider how you can best explain this and offer alternatives

Always listen, empathise and take the visitor and their situation seriously

· WORKING OUTSIDE Before leaving

· Arrange with a colleague a system of times by which you will report in, give them a summary of your visits and ensure you follow it .

· Try to find out as much as possible about the person you are meeting, study any files and talk to colleagues.

· Ensure that all parties are clear as to the purpose of the meeting

· Hold meetings in public areas that you are happy with.

· When visiting unfamiliar territory, verify details first

· If in any doubt as to the location or the person, seek support or rearrange the meeting to suit you

· Organise yourself effectively to avoid finding yourself in a difficult situation

· Consider calling the person before the meeting to confirm arrangements and establish their mood/state

· Consider whether a colleague should be present

· If you fear for your safety and do not believed the risks to be controlled: do not go. Explain your concerns to your manager

Personal checklist

· Carry your credentials or ID, ready to show at the door straight away.

· Ensure you possess all necessary documentation regarding the visit

· Carry a personal alarm and mobile phone if possible and programme in key numbers

· Always carry emergency cash and a phone card

· Carry a torch if likely to be out in the dark

· Avoid carrying things that attract criminals and do not provide them with the opportunity to commit the crime

On your approach

· Select your parking spot carefully and position for a quick exit

· Assess the environment before committing yourself

· Wait outside and listen before knocking on the door

· Be purposeful and confident as this can deter illegitimate interest.

· Have an exit excuse prepared in case you do not feel comfortable

· Show respect for other people, their property and cultural differences

On return

· Ensure information concerning risk is passed to other colleagues/added to file

· Report any incident that may have occurred

  • Review safe practice with colleagues at team meetings