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How do we define violence and aggression?

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The British Crime Survey of 2018 indicated: As many as 150 lone workers were attacked verbally or physically in the UK every day. That means 54,750 lone workers are attacked each year. So, what about those incidents that are not reported? How many are we looking at 54,000, 128,00, much more, who knows?

Have you felt uncomfortable, nervous, or scared for your personal safety when out alone on your own during the daytime or when working in an isolated area of your business premises?

"How do we define violence and aggression in the workplace?"

One of the many problems when writing or discussing violence and aggression, is exactly that; what is the most appropriate title? Work-related violence, managing challenging behaviour, preventing and managing violence and aggression, conflict management, and the headings go on.

The problem – even before Covid workplace abusive, aggressive and violent behaviours was a growing problem reflecting the general increase in frustration, agitation and distress across modern-day society. We have all read reports, and some of you will have seen or had the misfortune to be on the receiving end of members of the public spitting or being verbally aggressive towards staff who are trying to ensure everyone enjoys the customer experience. Whether it be in part through alcohol, drug abuse or the mental state (ie; stress) of people, a lack of respect and a lack of appropriate resources all contribute to the problem faced by employers and their employers. How do we collectively prevent and manage violence and aggression at work with the same enthusiasm and due diligence as other health and safety risk management issues are addressed?

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 places a general duty upon employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees whilst at work, whilst the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also places a duty upon employers to carry out a risk assessment of ‘all’ workplace activities. It is acknowledged that there is an organisational need to ensure that a company’s reputation and standards are of the highest standing. Equally, there is a duty to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all staff, visitors and contractors. The consequences in failing to have adequate safety measures in place are low staff morale, absenteeism, high staff turnover and poor organisational reputation.

"One person’s banter is another person's bullying"

Back to the problem. How do we define violence and aggression in the workplace? Well, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines states that ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work, is a reportable incident’. Whether the person’s (perceived aggressor) behaviours were explicit or implicit in design or nature is broadly irrelevant. The issues are how did those behaviours make the recipient (ie; victim) feel! If, we take a holistic view to the HSE’s definition, then whatever you may be thinking about right now related to being a victim of workplace violence, will almost certainly fit into their definition of a reportable incident of violence and aggression in the workplace! often have we heard these sayings; “it was only meant as a joke”, “I didn’t mean anything by it” “s/he didn’t say anything, so I thought they were okay with what I was saying/doing” etc, etc, etc. Remember one person’s banter is another person’s bullying....continued negative behaviour ranging from abuse to humiliation and ridicule! The problem for the recipient of this type of so-called banter is that unlike other times when they may experience an immediate fear for their safety bringing on the ‘fight or flight’ (ie; physiological and emotional) reactions to the anticipation of danger. The recipient of unwanted banter often suffers in silence (ie; psychological impact) which will over a short or longer period of time lead to the onset of stress and eventually the person acquiescing; submissive response to dominance leading to a person becoming withdrawn and subdued.

Back to an employer’s duty to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable a safe working environment. They must promote and encourage, through transformational leadership, open and transparent work environments, what is often known as supervisors and managers having an ‘open door’ policy. Staff must feel that they are empowered to challenge and/or speak-up/speak-out about wrong-doing towards themselves, their colleagues or third-party individuals. An employee’s day-to-day duty is to report incidents of wrong-doing, abusive, threatening or aggressive behaviours. An employer’s day-to-day duty is to be receptive to all verbal reporting of hazardous behaviours. Upon the receipt of a written report they must then review, reflect upon the content of the report they receive before disseminating the outcome of their decision(s). This should very often result in the introduction, instruction, training and/or supervision of new information and/or equipment.

The information collated from incident reports will provide informative data, analysis and intelligence which will form part of an overall strategy to eliminate, reduce, isolate and/or control ‘known’ risks factors. We must introduce or already have proactive measures in place to improve staff safety and well-being, whilst enhancing the overall customer experience...empowering staff!

It's how ‘one’ perceives the threat of violence or aggression towards themselves or the people around them which will determine whether ‘one’ believes the incident to be a reportable!

Even with today’s technology people remain our greatest asset. They need to be encouraged to raise concerns or report incidents which could have given rise to challenging, threatening or aggressive behaviours; but didn’t (ie; near miss). Staff need to feel empowered, and therefore confident in the knowledge that they will always be supported when raising concerns, speaking up/out and/or reporting incidents!

Having read this report do you feel there have been incidents that you now feel you could/should have reported?


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