Violence at Work

Posted in : HR Updates on 5 November 2012
Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services
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When Work gets Violent 

According to the HSENI, 11% of workplace injuries in 2011/12 were due to violence. Stephen Thomas, Safety Technical Consultant at Croner considers the problem of violence in the workplace and what can be done to prevent it and deal with it.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) defines workplace violence as “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”.

Violence described in these terms includes both verbal abuse and physical threats or acts. The outcomes can include physical injury and also the psychological effects of exposure to threatening situations. There are many work situations and activities where the risk of violence is a real one and such risk can cause poor morale and stress.

Who is at Risk?

The occupations and professions most at risk include:

  • protective services, e.g. the police and prison service
  • health and social welfare professionals
  • teaching and research professionals
  • transport workers, e.g. buses and taxis
  • sales and customer service occupations
  • cash handling occupations.

The nature of the physical injuries sustained can vary, but most range from bruising or black eyes to scratches and cuts. Assaults or the threat of assault can, however, cause psychological effects such as stress, anxiety and fear.

Violence in workplace also includes harassment in the workplace from colleagues or manager.

What does the Law Require?

While there are no specific regulations on violence at work, there are a range of general health and safety legal requirements that apply to the protection of staff from acts of violence.

In particular, the Health and Safety at Work (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 requires employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others and this extends to protection from acts of violence.

The Management of Violence at Work

The effective management of violence at work is no different to dealing with other workplace risks and starts with a risk assessment to identify whether acts of violence are a significant issue. This will involve assessing the likelihood of an act of violence and the level of injury that is likely to be incurred.

As with any risk assessment, control measures to mitigate and minimise the risk of acts of violence need to be implemented. The working environment can be changed, systems of work introduced and monitored, and security measures and training implemented.

Precautionary measures may include:

  • training staff on how to spot early signs of aggression and how to avoid them
  • training staff on how to deal with potentially dangerous situations
  • alarm systems, including personal alarms
  • physical barriers, e.g. screens
  • CCTV surveillance
  • lone working policies and systems
  • assessment of clients and customers
  • improved environment, e.g. lighting
  • avoidance of large cash sums; using credit cards
  • maintaining appropriate staffing levels.

It is also important to provide for those who are victims of acts of violence. This may involve counselling and rehabilitation programmes.


Going to work and being afraid because of the threat of violence is unacceptable. Workers at risk need to know how to deal with escalating aggression and be reassured that measures are in place to properly protect them.

This article is correct at 09/11/2015

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Helen O'Brien
Personnel and Training Services

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