Once again, I was recently having a conversation about workplace staff safety when the conversation turned to ‘every task/plan must have an exit strategy built into it’. I was informed by the person I was speaking to “that’s okay for you to say but we have a ‘no physical contact’ policy where I work”. It means that if they were being physically assaulted in the workplace, they were informed that they were not allowed to do anything about it to protect themselves.
At this point, we then discussed a couple of high/medium/low examples of abusive/challenging/aggressive behaviour situations. I suggested they should, if they can, walk away from the situation to a position of safety. The reply I received to my suggestion was they have been informed that due to safeguarding issues they could not just leave an environment, because something could happen to the other person (who was attacking them).
Let’s be clear, someone standing in front of you or restricting your movement or blocking your exit path is taking away your ‘freedom’ of movement! Unless they are doing this for a greater good (ie; duty of care) or to prevent harm (ie; safeguarding), my question would be, “why are they using their physical presence to take your freedom of movement?”
Let’s start with – the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines work-related violence as ‘any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.’ If you physically and/or emotionally feel for your safety to the point where you are concerned that something could go wrong (immediately or very soon), then these feelings, as well as what happened, from your point of view, is what the HSE is referring to a reportable incident.
I often ask the question “who is responsible for your safety in the workplace?” The answer I am greeted with is, ‘oneself.’ In acknowledging that answer I go on to ask the next question “who is ultimately responsible for your safety in the workplace, at which point I am often met with a mixture of silence, sometimes confusion and correct answers! The correct answer being your employer/the most senior person within your company/organisation is responsible for everyone’s safety in the workplace!
Employers’ Duty of Care…
In line with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA), employers owe employees a general duty of care to provide a safe place and system of work. This comes with an implied existence within a contract of employment, and therefore a common duty of care under the law. Furthermore, Section 2 of the HSWA places a statutory duty on employers to take such steps as are ‘reasonably practicable to ensure the health, safety and welfare from foreseeable risks/danger.
Incident reporting/Empowering people…
What do the terms, work-related violence, violence and aggression, challenging behaviour, verbal abuse, verbal aggression, and hazardous behaviour, mean to you? The problem is that these terms mean so many different things to so many different people. People working in care, health services, night-time economy, retail, transport services, and emergency services are more likely to come across these types of behaviours. People working in face-to-face roles, providing customer service, are far more likely to become a victim of work-related violence (abused, threatened or assaulted).
In addition to the risk assessment of your job role, the reporting of incidents by you will provide a measure of the risks faced within your workplace. This in turn will provide data regarding the types of incidents, frequency of incidents, times and locations of incidents, etc, which will allow for measures to be put in place before carrying out particular tasks which are ‘known’ to carry higher levels of risk/threat.
Everyone expects and wants to feel confident that they can do the job (ie; complete the task) but the behaviours of others can often have an impact on how well we complete some tasks. We must feel confident that we can manage all situations by either exiting, containing or resolving situations ideally before they arise. Until a threat/risk is realised it is impossible to say with absolute certainty what we will do when things go wrong. It is important that we are confident and therefore feel empowered in the belief that we will do the right thing.
Proactive measures to enhance safety…
Policies are extremely important in that they provide compliance with the law and guidance regarding decision-making. In different situations, preventing and managing work-related violence, when carrying out the task, open to interpretation within the law. As a competent person, when managing risk, you understandably would like autonomy based on the briefing you received or the information available to you at the start of your shift, to do what you believe to be right at that time.
As a professional person, whatever you do in the moment of risk (dynamic risk assessment) to remain safe you will do it with the best of intentions. With a duty of care and safeguarding uppermost in your mind, whatever you do at the moment, you would (arguably) not have done so had you not felt professionally it was the right thing to do – at that moment. That alone does not make your actions right. What arguably makes it right is how your actions (verbal and written report…in line with the HSE definition of reportable incident types) are judged by those reviewing your report.
Common law (re your honestly held belief) should play a part in any incident report and/or statement you submit regarding work-related violence!
Your (subjective) opinions will be viewed (objectively) by those sitting in judgement of you.
Right back to the start of this blog. Whether the person I was speaking to had misunderstood the information given to them or they had been wrongly informed, the point is during our conversation their interpretation of their policy and procedures relating to staff safety in their workplace was that they were not allowed to walk away from a situation (ie; protect themselves) whilst at work.
Why do people produce policies that whilst written with the best of intentions, often restrict and in some instances take away a person’s basic Human Rights?