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  • Retail Round-up
  • 2008;
  • 13

How to protect the safety of your staff in the workplace

Tue, 03/06/2008 - 13:31

In the UK, more than 3 million working days are lost every year due to violent incidents at work. Sasa Jankovic looks at ways to keep staff safe

Business insight | Getting the best from your workforce


One in five people are attacked or abused at work each year, according to the Trades Union Congress, the national trade union centre in the UK. As well as disrupting many lives, this causes more than 3 million lost working days each year.

The Health and Safety Executive defines violence as any incident in which an employee is “abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of the public in circumstances arising out of the course of his or her employment”.

Victims may suffer physical injuries as well as psychological trauma and can need time off to recover, proving costly to their employer. Then there is the cost to the NHS (estimated by the National Audit Office at £173m per year) and the benefits system.

Figures from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association show that workplace violence and the fear of it are a growing concern, with staff from one in every 15 pharmacies surveyed suffering violence, and half of all respondents recalling at least two incidents where they suffered violence or the threat of violence or abuse.

Who is at risk?

Anyone whose job brings them into contact with the public can be at risk of violence, and those in frontline health professions such as pharmacy are likely to be more vulnerable.

Employers and staff have to work together to reduce the risk of violence, which often occurs due to a combination of factors such as working unsocial hours, working alone, handling money, or coping with distressed or angry customers.

Employers’ responsibilities

Making the workplace safer improves morale and reduces staff turnover and absenteeism. In addition, employers have a duty of care under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure a safe workplace for all staff, which includes assessing (see Panel below) and preventing violence.

John Murphy, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, clarifies: “Whilst it is the collective responsibility of all in [the] pharmacy to do whatever they can to ensure that the working environment is as safe as possible, it is primarily the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety of their staff.”

Safety checklist

• Are staff trained in good customer service and conflict resolution?

• Are staff confident? (an atmosphere of fear can increase the likelihood of violence)

• Are staff aware of customers with a history of violence?

• Are security measures up to date? (eg, video cameras or alarm systems, coded security locks on the doors, wider counters)

• Can lone worker situations be avoided?

• Do staff know how to report violence?

Things to consider when undertaking a risk assessment

By law all employers must carry out a workplace risk assessment. Many violent incidents can be predicted, and a risk assessment helps to identify them. Conflict management training consultants Maybo advise considering the following three stages:

Awareness Are staff aware of situations they might face and customers they may encounter?

Prevention What actions can be taken to prevent conflict arising or to reduce the frequency and impact of incidents? How can staff prevent conflict escalating into violence? (This typically involves the use of interpersonal skills, such as conflict resolution training.)

Disengagement Do staff know how to disengage themselves from conflict and how to report and record any events?

Training tips

A new report from the NHS Security Management Service reveals that training designed to prevent violence and abuse makes NHS staff feel safer at work.

Conflict resolution training gives staff the skills to spot the signs of violence before it happens. Staff also learn how to defuse, prevent and manage an incident without the use of physical restraint.

Nine out of ten staff trained by the NHS Security Management Service in conflict resolution said they can now manage verbally abusive patients, compared with six out of ten before the training. The survey also revealed that 67 per cent of trained staff felt safe from violence at work, compared with 47 per cent before the training.

Richard Hampton, Head of the NHS Security Management Service, says: “Reducing the fear of violence can be just as important as reducing violence itself. With the introduction of the Local Security Management Specialist (LSMS) to health bodies we hope to see even more staff working without fear of violence or abuse.”

Lone working

PTracK device

The PTracK device activates a visual alarm at a control centre

With the Health and Safety Executive reporting 1.3 million attacks on lone workers in the UK every year, avoiding lone working is one of the most simple safety steps to take.

If staff have to work alone, personal alarms and panic buttons can help ensure their safety.

One such device is the new PTrack device. This is a mobile phone-sized device which operates via a one-button panic alert to activate a visual alarm at a control centre, giving full details of user and location. At the same time, the device sends a panic alert text to designated mobile phone numbers.

Supplied with a belt clip and a power adapter, PTrack units can be leased and managed for around £1 per day.

Staff responsibilities

Employees also have responsibility for their own wellbeing and that of their colleagues. The aim in any difficult situation should always be to diffuse, rather than exacerbate, an incident, but the law does allow people to take any reasonable action to defend ourselves and our property using reasonable force.

In addition, it is vital that staff are aware of reporting and recording procedures. The Physical Assault Reporting System (PARS) is a system designed to be used by all primary care trust staff and contractors to report violent incidents to the NHS SMS so that they can be recorded and monitored (although this is an England-only service).

The form can be downloaded (Microsoft Word document) and should be returned to your LSMS. In addition, all physical violence must be reported to the police.

Further information

Conflict management training and advice:
NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service training

Maybo (conflict management specialists)

Physical Assault Reporting System (PARS):
The form can be downloaded (Microsoft Word document)

Safe working practices and personal safety:

Victim support