HR professionals must act to reduce the rising tide of violence at work or face plummeting staff morale and hefty compensation claims.
They are being urged to support a Health and Safety Commission programme to crackdown on workplace violence and reduce incidents by 10 per cent within three years.
Speaking at a conference to launch the initiative, Sandra Caldwell, director of the HSE's Health Directorate, said HR must tackle the problem of violence at work.
She said, "It makes business sense. If you don't take action to prevent it then you obviously have regulatory sanctions, but you also have an economic shortfall. You will have low moral, high staff turnover and compensation claims too."
TUC general secretary John Monks urged HR professionals to take action. He said, "It is a top-priority HR issue. Nothing affects morale more than staff feeling frightened, vulnerable or physically intimidated.
"Unfortunately incidents are increasing and this needs to rocket up the HR agenda. It is important in terms of issues like staff retention and turnover and other things that affect the business."
James Burt, a manager with South West Trains, told the conference HR professionals need to collaborate with other departments.
He said they should work with safety and occupational health practitioners and secure board-level support to ensure initiatives are given the priority they need.
The programme, organised by the commission, which oversees the HSE, will involve the commissioning of research. Guidance will also be developed targeted at sectors most at risk.
Keith Luxon, Tesco group HR policy manager, welcomed the programme. He said the potential for violence toward staff was inevitably increased by lengthening opening hours.
He said, "We have a range of initiatives from incorporating the best design features when we build our stores through to training staff to deal with customers and counselling after a major incident.
"I think what we will be looking for from the HSC programme is practical examples of what can be done to eliminate the problem."
Figures from the TUC, which has launched a leaflet aimed at helping employers tackle violence at work, show one in five people are attacked or abused at work each year.