Employers’ duty of care against violence

With
violence against staff on the increase, organisations should be aware of risk
assessment procedures, the training required to minimise risk, and the extent
of the employer’s duty of care to protect staff, says Anna Burges-Lumsden

Bill
Fox, director of Maybo – consultants on workplace conflict – said employers
should consider three levels of risk assessment for violence:


A full generic violence risk assessment covering roles and tasks performed


Risk assessment of pre-planned events


Individual ‘dynamic risk assessment’. This helps an individual effectively
assess a situation from a personal safety perspective as it is unfolding.

It
is important that risk assessment acknowledges staff perceptions and fears –
not just the tangible facts, according to Fox.

“It
is easy to underestimate the impact of continuous low-level verbal abuse and
intimidation,” he said. “This can lead to stress-related illness and affect for
example, staff working in reception areas or call centres, who may not initially
appear to be at risk.”

Where
physical assault is foreseeable, training is a key risk reduction measure and
may need to include physical intervention skills to protect against assault.
Failure to provide adequate training has resulted in many recent negligence
cases.

Central
to an effective strategy for combating workplace violence is an understanding
of the nature and extent of the problem, said Fox.

 Employers need a system that monitors and
provides data and information on the trends surrounding violence in the
workplace for a particular organisation.

The
wealth of information gathered can provide evidence on the strengths or
weaknesses of risk reduction measures, such as policies, procedures, management
skills, equipment, training and selection and service provision.

It
also provides a solid foundation for the risk assessment process, policy
development and overall workplace violence strategy.

Risk
reduction will identify special areas of risk, and provide role-specific
reduction measures such as extra equipment, or special training required for
lone workers.

Earlier
this year, the victim of an armed robbery was awarded £179,000 when her
employer was accused of putting profits before staff safety. The judge said the
employer’s insistence that the manager worked alone on premises where physical
attacks might be anticipated was a breach of his duty to take reasonable care
for her safety.

Michael
Ball, employment partner at Halliwell Landau, said: “It is a matter of
contention whether an employer should make all possible adjustments to increase
employee safety. All employers are under duty to provide a safe working
environment, and must perform a risk assessment to ascertain what hazards may
affect an employee.

“In
the service sector, the most serious hazard a worker commonly faces is the
general public,” Ball said. “Protective screens, CCTV cameras and emergency
escape routes may be necessary, but employers are often reluctant to make such
adjustments, due to cost and disruption, or on the grounds that it will make no
real difference.”

Fox
said it would be unrealistic, and possibly counterproductive, for example, to
expect all workers who risk facing violence to wear stab-proof vests.

“The
image, cost and psychological message created could be disproportionate to the
risk involved in all but the most hazardous cases,” he said.

Maybo
risk assessment model

Step
1 – Identify the risks inherent in the role and plan consultation

Step
2 – Research incidents and identify who may be harmed and how

Step
3 – Examine risks relating to specific activities/tasks

Step
4 – Identify and examine existing risk-reduction measures

Step
5 – Identify and implement new risk-reduction measures

Step
6 – Follow up with tests, evaluation and continuous review.

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