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Defending the Right to Self-Defence at Work

Across the scope of employment law, the right to self-defence at work is a critical aspect that needs to be explored in more detail.

Let’s delve into the legal foundations that safeguard employees' rights when defending themselves, the imperative need for personal safety training, and the role of risk assessments in shaping detailed and comprehensive training programmes.

Additionally, let’s explore the significance of allowing employees discretion in exceptional situations that may not be explicitly covered by company policies, guidelines and training.

Legal Basis for Employee Self-Defence:

Employees have a fundamental right to protect themselves and others from harm in the workplace.

This right is rooted in ‘common law’ principles, which recognise that individuals can use reasonable force to defend themselves and others when faced with imminent danger.

Even if self-defence results in injury or death of the aggressor, the law may protect the employee if their actions were justified in the given circumstances.

The Role of Conflict Management, Lone Working and Breakaway Training:

To ensure a safe working environment, employers are legally obligated to provide detailed comprehensive training programmes which add value to the analysis compiled from incident reporting data.

Conflict management and personal safety training equips employees with the knowledge, understanding and skills to assess and respond to potentially dangerous situations.

Lone working training addresses the unique risks faced by employees working alone or working remotely (ie; sometimes in pairs), such as late-night shifts or remote locations.

Breakaway training, following identified risk assessments linked to working in known high risk areas or situations, focuses firstly on how to avoid and prevent potentially hazardous or dangerous situations going wrong.

If that fails, for many varying reasons, then they are taught how to safely disengage from physical confrontational situations whilst minimising the risk of injury to all parties involved.

These training programmes are not just a legal obligation, they are essential requirement towards employee safety.

They empower workers to handle conflicts and threats to their safety with confidence, reducing the likelihood of escalating violence, aggression and harm.

The Role of Risk Assessment:

Conducting regular risk assessments must be the cornerstone of workplace safety.

These assessments identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities, allowing employers to tailor their training programmes to appropriately address identified and specific risks.

For instance, if employees often interact with frustrated or irate customers, the training might emphasise verbal and non-verbal de-escalation techniques and maintaining a safe distance.

Common Law Self-Defence in the Workplace:

Common law self-defence principles are deeply entrenched within in the legal framework of UK law.

In the workplace, these principles mean that if an employee uses force to protect themselves and their actions align with the standards of common law self-defence, they are likely to receive legal protection.

However, any use of force resulting in injury or death is subject to legal scrutiny and must be judged as being proportionate to the perceived threat.

Employee Discretion in Exceptional Situations:

It is essential to recognise that not all situations can be foreseen or addressed in workplace policies, procedures, training manuals, or guidelines.

Exceptional circumstances may arise where an employee faces an immediate threat that falls outside the scope of established protocols and the organisations training programme.

In such cases, employees should be granted the discretion to act in their best judgment, in line with their honestly held belief, to protect themselves and others.

For example, if an employee encounters an armed intruder on company premises, they may need to make split-second decisions to ensure safety.

Allowing employees this discretion acknowledges the unpredictability of real-life situations.

The legal basis for an employee's right to self-defence at work is well-established and grounded in common law principles.

Employers have a responsibility to provide comprehensive training programmes, informed by regular risk assessments, to ensure their employee’s safety.

Additionally, allowing employees discretion in exceptional situations recognises the complexity of real-world and real-life threats to their own safety and that of others and empowers them to protect themselves and their colleagues effectively.

Balancing legal protection with proactive training and discretion fosters a safer and more secure workplace for all.

Resulting in improved workplace safety and staff that feel empowered to proactively prevent, manage and resolve potentially challenging, aggressive or violent behaviours.

PS – remember every safety plan ‘must’ have an exit strategy built into the it!

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