Violence and aggression in the workplace

15 Jun 2020

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Work-related violence has serious consequences for employees and the employer. Victims may suffer not only physical injury, but also psychological effects, such as anxiety and stress.  As the employer you should be able to show that you have and will take reasonable measures to protect yourself and your employees from acts of violence and aggression.

What is meant by violence?

An act of violence can be defined as:

  • actual or threatened physical assaults on staff
  • psychological abuse of staff
  • verbal abuse which includes shouting, swearing and gestures
  • threats against employees.

How can you support your staff?

There are a wide range of measures that you should follow to reduce the risk of violence at work to employees. These are:

  • carry out risk assessments of potential conflict situations to determine the control measures necessary to protect staff
  • ensure that premises are kept secure
  • inform all employees of the procedure following a violent or challenging behaviour incident
  • not tolerate violence or challenging behaviour towards employees
  • train employees who may be exposed to violence or challenging behaviour situations
  • support any employees involved in any incident
  • support their decisions regarding the pressing of criminal charges
  • provide any counselling or post-incident assistance required by the employees
  • keep record of all incidents of violence and aggression and review the control measures with a view to continual improvement in employee safety.

Diffusing the situation

In the event of violent or aggressive behaviour there are several steps that you can try to diffuse the situation:

Act in control

Even if you feel anxious or scared when confronted by an aggressor, try to give the impression that you are confident and in control of the situation. Anxiety is an entirely reasonable reaction to violent or aggressive behaviour, but if an aggressor notices it then it may increase their level of aggression.

  • Talk to the aggressor in a calm and respectful manner, and keep the tone of your voice low.
  • If you have been summoned to assist with a violent or aggressive customer or person that you don’t know, introduce yourself to the aggressor and ask what you can do to help.
  • Maintain a non-judgmental attitude and focus your attention on the aggressor at all times
  • Let the aggressor talk without interruption, and acknowledge how they are feeling. Remember that your aim is to calm them down, not to make sense of their complaint or issue.

Use body language

Body language can reinforce or undermine the impression that you are trying to give.

  • Maintain neutral eye contact with the aggressor, but try not to stare. Break eye contact every so often if necessary.
  • Keep your face relaxed, but don’t smile. The aggressor will respond badly if they think that you are laughing at them or making light of the situation.
  • Keep your body language open and don’t cross your arms or gesture with anything that could be perceived as a weapon. Stand a safe distance away from the aggressor and be aware of your nearest exit at all times.

Work towards a solution

Wait for the aggressor to calm down. Explain the consequences of their aggressive behaviour respectfully but firmly. Suggest ways in which the situation could be resolved without conflict, and try to give the aggressor more than one solution so that they have some control over the situation. 

If you or your staff are a witness or receive any violence or aggression ensure it is recorded and investigated. Support the decision of any employee wishing to press charges against the individual(s) involved.

Bira members 

Get in touch with Bira Legal for further support and advice on the details below (have your Bira membership number to hand).

0345 450 0937

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Additional Guidance and Resources: 

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