The hidden cost of violent attacks at work

Recent news reports have highlighted the increase in robberies involving violent attacks on security staff.

In 2005, there were 836 reported attacks on cash-in-transit operators and cash machine refill services – an increase of 12.5%. A quarter of all robberies involved the use of violence. So far this year, 226 robberies have already been reported.

Low employee morale and lost time due to physical and psychological injuries are just some of the effects of violent attacks. In addition, insurance premiums can go up after a rise in personal injury claims.

The security industry is not the only sector to report an increase in violence to staff. The British Retail Crime Survey, published in October 2005, also revealed a 14% increase in violent crime in the retail sector. Other industries, including transport, have also reported an increase in violence.

Reducing the risk

So what can security companies do to reduce the risk of injury through violence to their staff? Of all the sectors, the security industry has the keenest interest in ensuring the safety of its employees and the money they are transferring. As a result, security measures and systems are already very sophisticated. They include the use of highly advanced technology for security vans, surveillance where appropriate and variation of routes. However, at the heart of the precautions designed to reduce attacks lies proper training of both guards and internal staff on what to do in the event of an attack – whether it is a direct physical attack to the individual or a colleague being held under duress.

The increase in violent crime, which has seen 58 guards seriously injured in the past three years, has put the security industry under increasing pressure.

Fortunately, most guards who are victims of violent attacks avoid long-term physical injury. However, the psychological impact can last for years.

HR’s essential role

The security industry’s sophistication in addressing the risk of robberies must therefore also be applied to the provision of aftercare for victims of attacks, and it is essential that HR takes an active role in this.

HR needs to track the progress of absentees and, where appropriate, offer early rehabilitation and treatment. Care must also be taken to assess whether a victim with psychological difficulties will be fit enough to return to normal duties.

Injured employees can initiate civil proceedings for damages alleging that, while their employer may not have been able to prevent the attack, it had been less than sympathetic and responsive in supporting the employee and, as a consequence, the psychological impact has been aggravated.

While an employee can bring civil proceedings against their employer, more often they will seek to recover compensation under the government’s criminal injuries compensation scheme. However, in December 2005, the government published the Rebuilding Lives -Supporting Victims of Crime Green Paper. Among other things, the paper suggests changes to the present scheme to include no payments for minor injuries. This would mean that where violence occurs during the course of employment, the employer would have to pay the compensation – irrespective of whether or not it could reasonably have done anything to prevent the attack.

The paper is currently at the consultation stage, but if introduced it will place a further burden on employers, who will be left to finance the risk through appropriate insurance.

The increasing trend of violent attacks is a worrying one. To reverse the trend requires prioritisation and co-operation between all interested parties, including the security industry, police and trade unions.

Action points

  • Train staff to adhere to safe working practices when faced with an imminent attack.
  • Consider what further physical barriers and equipment could be provided to reduce risk.
  • Provide aftercare for victims, including counselling and support.
  • Ensure any offering of counselling and further treatment, including all communications, is well documented.

For more on the criminal injuries compensation scheme, see Employers’ Law, February 2006.

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