Self-defence training: Protect and serve

Self-defence training for employees could, in extreme circumstances, mean the difference between life and death. When is it appropriate?

Ever considered putting your staff through self-defence training?

Employers have a duty of care to protect their employees under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It states that employers are expected to take reasonably practicable steps to safeguard their employees against any foreseeable dangers in the workplace, including the risk of them being assaulted at work.

The Health and Safety Executive defines violence at work as “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their employment”.

There are a host of occupations that are vulnerable to attacks. The more obvious are customer-facing roles such as security guards, bank clerks and retail staff – but even general office workers are subject to attacks from either their peers, customers or the public.

A British Retail Consortium survey reported that physical violence against retail staff rose 50% in one year, adding that the number of threats of violence increased by one-third in 2007.

For UK retailing as a whole, losses from detected customer theft rose 8.5% from £189m to £205m in a year. So, what should employers look for in self-defence training providers?

Training is available in a wide range of courses, of varying duration, that include classroom-based theory and practical sessions or both. Costs can vary from £10 to £70 per person, with sessions typically lasting up to three hours a week over a month.


Krav Maga Scotland delivers ‘contact combat’ self-defence classes to employees across a range of occupations by teaching them actions that are based on the body’s natural defence instincts.

Fraser Anderson, lead instructor, says: “Employers should obviously commission training providers that have a proven track record – and the courses should be geared to suit the type of employee and business. The key emphasis is teaching employees how to defend themselves effectively, and not to deliberately hurt the attacker.”

But how far can employees legally defend themselves from attackers? The concept of self-defence exists both at common law and by statute.

At common law, a person can use reasonable force to: defend themselves from attack prevent an attack on another person defend their property.

In addition to the common law defence, Section 3 (1) of the Criminal Law Act 1967 (the statutory defence) provides that: “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”


Self-defence courses typically consist of teaching employees how to fend off and incapacitate attackers.

Anderson advises that courses should be structured to fit in around the employer’s own work schedule, and can be delivered on location or at the trainer’s venue. Classes should include a thorough warm-up to ensure individuals are prepared and stretched for the class.

“Organisations should select courses that cover a variety of threats – for example, bodily actions, knives and guns,” he stresses. “Generally, courses should train individuals how to get out of bad situations, such as being attacked in a confined space, dealing with a multiple attack, or an attack involving an impact or edged weapon.”

The training, says Anderson, should teach employees how to cope with the ‘adrenalin dump’, the rush of panic felt when in a confrontational situation. Classes are often designed to be quite noisy so individuals can gain a real-life experience of dealing with confusing and stressful situations. At the end of each class, there should be a proper ‘warm down’ and a time for managers and staff to ask any questions, he advises.


Simon Leila, managing director of 360 Defence Limited, defines reasonable force as taking physical action in moderation. He says: “Employees, like all citizens, are legally allowed to use pre-emptive strikes if they are in fear of their life or being injured. If someone is pulling a gun on you, you don’t wait to be shot.”

He adds that if a person has good reason to believe the attacker is carrying a knife or a gun, but doesn’t actually see it, they are able to use a pre-emptive strike.

Ultimately, Lelia says, an office and its equipment are replaceable, but an employee’s life is not.

They want it

Social workers are among those employees who believe they need self-defence training to do what can be a hazardous job.

Almost two-thirds of social workers who took part in an online poll by sector magazine Community Care said they should receive self-defence training.

The poll, which attracted 400 votes, was held in response to 2007 Local Government Association research, which estimated that 50,000 social care staff are attacked each year.

But the issue of self-defence also prompted opposition from many respondents and the organisation Violence at Work. It suggested that a major Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report into violence at work had found self-defence training would not be effective.

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