Growth in violence at work

The HSC programme will see research commissioned. There will be a publicity drive aimed at raising awareness and guidance will be produced for sectors deemed to be most at risk.

The move has been welcomed by HR professionals, who say high-profile initiatives help secure resources and commitment to further tackle the problem. But they also point to the complexity of the issue and the need to tailor advice to individual sectors.

Successful strategy

Lew Swift, HR director at Aintree Hospital, says it is important to recognise that violence in the workplace is not new. It was such a problem in Liverpool at one time, he says, patients attending casualty had to ask for the door to be unlocked before being treated. Training, he adds, is only part of a successful strategy. Most importantly, HR managers need to be proactive to maintain the trust of staff. When an incident occurs, action must be immediate and high profile.

He says, “However good the measures you have in place, you can’t prevent violence completely and the danger is that staff then lose confidence and become depressed.

“About four weeks ago we had a member of staff attacked in the car park. Our reaction was immediate – we doubled the lighting and security patrols. It is the psychological effect on the staff that is important. To do nothing creates problems and what you do has to be visible, otherwise morale will plummet, absenteeism will rise and recruitment will become difficult.”

The Prison Service is constantly alert to the potential for violent attacks on staff. The service’s director of personnel, Gareth Hadley, says getting recruitment right is the biggest challenge.

He says, “We look for those who have the capacity to develop the interpersonal skills that we see as critical. We have to find extraordinary people and I think the key is recruitment.

“What we do in our training of prison officers, and others who work directly with prisoners, is to focus on developing the individual’s interpersonal skills so that they are able to defuse situations and establish an appropriate rapport with the prisoners.”

Hadley says candidates for the service are put through a series of job simulation exercises specifically tailored to the challenges they will face as prison officers.

“We also set boundaries,” he adds. “We are clear with prisoners about what our expectations are so that they know what they are entitled to.

“If a member of staff is subject to a criminal assault by a prisoner, and they wish the matter to be reported and dealt with as a crime, that will be done.”

Terry Coode, group human resources director at the Woolwich bank, says it has two categories of staff who are at risk: counter staff and financial advisers and mortgage surveyors.

He said in the case of branch staff the bank stresses the need for clear guidance setting out what employees should do if they are the victim of a robbery, along with procedures for dealing with the aftermath.

“We recognise that we have to have special arrangements in place for both categories of staff because no matter how well we design our branches we get robberies and other incidents.

“Our staff work under clear instructions about how to deal with these situations, and these are geared to ensuring their safety.

“We also have in place some well developed post-trauma support services. We recognise that robberies – or particularly angry customers in a branch – can leave an element of trauma so we use a system of team debriefing.

Discuss feelings

“We get everyone together to discuss their feelings about what happened literally 48 hours after an incident. In most cases, this helps people share their concerns and realise that they are not unusual or alone. We then have one-to-one counselling for staff that need it.

“We are also planning to implement an employee assistance programme that will mean employees have access to a 24-hour helpline that they can contact at any time of the day or night and speak to someone unconnected to the Woolwich.”

Coode says staff need to know exactly what is expected of them in a crisis. “It has to be absolutely clear that when there is an incident, the primary focus is that our staff are safe and everything else takes second place.

“Doing otherwise would put themselves, their colleagues and customers at risk. There is no expectation of heroism either, because that increases the prospect of long-term trauma.”

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