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Bullying and Harassment is not banter


Bullying continues to be a real problem in workplace settings and is not always recognised by employers, and other employees.  Quite often it is passed off as workplace banter and is often described as ‘JUST A BIT OF FUN’ or we were just ‘FOOLING’ around. Because the victims were laughing and bullies thought the victims were okay with the joke.  

Research has identified that:

  • Almost 50% of employees have witnessed bullying in the workplace

  • 1 in 4 said they had been bullied 

  • 1 in 10 said they had reported being bullied

  • Over 66% of those who were bullied said they were not alone in being bullied at work

  • The research found that bullying was most common amongst public sector workers

The problem is… Bullying is often not perceived as “violence” but the impacts it has can involve physical, psychological abuse and manipulation resulting in long-term stress to the victim.

The Health and Safety Executive promotes the fact that bullying is a significant cause of stress and should be taken into account within the employer's risk assessment.  They need to assess the risks of stress, harassment and bullying at work and have effective systems for dealing with all forms of conflict (ie; sexual, racial, faith etc). 

New trainees, recruits and inexperienced workers may be at particular risk from so-called ‘initial ceremonies’ which involve peer group bullying, intimidation and/or violence directed at new and inexperienced colleagues.  

Examples of those include people being chased, stripped, doused in water or other substances, subjected to some form of ritual humiliation – being tied up or locked in confined spaces.  Although these types of incidents are becoming less common, they are still being reported and can be very harmful to the person(s) subjected to these types of inappropriate behaviour.  

Violence/bullying are sometimes foreseeable and some incidents may be less predictable. Sometimes violence is deliberate and therefore planned whilst some violence is unplanned and therefore may have been triggered by situations/people who are not normally violent find themselves in.  

Risk assessments should consider all hazardous aspects of the work that could involve the risk of work-related violence.  Factors to be included when review the foreseeable risk(s) may include: 

Involving staff through consultation and informal discussions with managers, supervisors and safety representatives.  It is a ‘must-do’ to ensure that people know and understand why the information is needed and shared.  Staff need assurances that they will be supported/protected when highlighting issues and that the issues raised will be used effectively towards preventing bullying/work-related violence.  Providing ‘safe’ space opportunities to discuss these issues is vitally important.  

Incident reporting and recording is a legal requirement under RIDDOR.  In line with the Reporting Incidents and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations employers are legally required to report certain types of workplace incidents.  Even if it is not a requirement under RIDDOR, the staff must be made aware of the importance of reporting incidents such as threats and near misses.  The under-reporting of incidents, particularly bullying behaviours means that employers are not getting an accurate picture of the issues.  

Classifying incidents such as date, place, time and type of incident and those involved and their possible causes.  In line with RIDDOR the following classification system provides guidance on the relative seriousness of the incident:

  • Feeling of being at risk or distressed

  • Injury or emotional shock leading to absence from work

  • Major injury

  • Fatal injury 

The classification assists with the reviewing of the risk factors including the trends and overall analysis of the types of incidents faced.

Investigating incidents will (should) lead to a full and thorough investigation of the incident.  Staff concerns at all times must be taken seriously, particularly when reporting bullying or harassment their fears and anxieties should not be dismissed.  Threats may or may not be carried out and therefore due to the uncertainty surrounding them they can be difficult to deal with.  That said, they should always be taken seriously as threats can undermine a person’s ability to function effectively in the workplace, and possibly at home.  

The reporting of incidents (and being supported) will help employers to establish a current knowledge regarding bullying, harassment and violence across all workplace areas.  

Employees must feel empowered and therefore confident in the knowledge they will be supported when submitting incident reports, where real or perceived.

The measure of violence and aggression is down to how you perceive the threat of violence or aggression towards you or around you.

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Speak to you again soon,

Improving Safety Enhancing Services

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