How to Safely Manage Violence in the Workplace

Aggressive man leaning over shop counter threatening woman store assistant

How to Safely Manage Violence in the Workplace

Figures from the UK Health and Safety Executive show there were an estimated 688,000 incidents of Violence towards people at work in 2019-2020

The Health and Safety Executive in the UK define it as
any incident in which a person is:


Threatened or


In circumstances related to their work.

Increasing levels of ‘Workplace Violence’ toward workers

Whether it be verbal abuse, threats made towards a member of staff or actual physical assault including throwing objects or driving vehicles at workers, the level and number of incidents of verbal and physical abuse in the workplace have risen throughout the UK

During the Covid 19 pandemic, workers have reported increasing levels of threatening behaviour and assaults from irate members of the public.

There have been many calls for legislation to target violence and abuse directed at workers with many businesses wanting the Police to take more effective action against offenders.

In Scotland, the Protection of Retail Workers law was introduced in August  2021 to protect retail workers from abuse, threats and violence.

Employers have a legal responsibility under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to carry out risk assessments of hazards in the workplace.

Conceivably the risk of violence is a hazard that must be assessed like any other and effective control measures put in place to prevent the violence or reduce its impact on employees.

Where violence is foreseeable, employers have a duty of care under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to identify the nature and extent of the risk posed by workplace violence and to provide employees with a safe place to work and a safe system for working.

For some organisations violence in the workplace is ‘The elephant in the room’. Although it is an obvious issue impacting on the wellbeing of staff and the operation of the organisation, the matter is often ignored or denied, until a critical incident occurs involving serious injury or fatality.

In March 2022, the UK government ratified the ILO Violence and Harassment Convention, the first international treaty to recognise a person’s right to be able to work free from violence and harassment.

To further protect staff the UK government will require employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace as well as clear protections against harassment from customers or clients

Rather than pass all responsibility for dealing with acts of violence in the workplace to employees and the Police to deal with, employers also have a major part to play in carrying out proper risk assessments of the threat posed to staff and others.

Reporting Incidents of Work-Related Violence

Gathering data about the levels of violence faced in the workplace is a good business practice as it shows a truer picture of the issues staff are facing as well as the impact on the business.

Many organisations have expensive online systems for reporting Accidents like slips, trips and falls yet they have no section for recording incidents of violence and aggression to staff or customers.

One large multinational fast-food chain could tell how many meals they had sold but not the incidents of violence faced by their staff and customers.

When asked about the problem of violence in their workplaces and how they deal with it, many claim they have a Zero Tolerance approach and tell their staff to call the Police for them to deal with the situation.

In many cases, it is not for the Police to deal with but a failure of the organisation to recognise the violence faced by staff and to put in place measures to negate the risk or reduce the risk.

An example is a patient with a head injury lashing out at staff in a hospital ward. The actions are caused by a medical condition affecting the brain. If a Zero Tolerance approach is taken, then a patient may be denied treatment and may die.

Many organisations see themselves as ‘unsafe’ if they record the true level of violence experienced by staff and customers. One large local authority housing director was ‘proud’ of the low levels of violence in their hostel for the homeless, with no violent incidents recorded that year.

Local police attended the hostel on average twice a day, at the request of the staff, to deal with a range of verbal and physical assaults on staff and clients.

The hostel staff were ‘verbally’ instructed not to record incidents on the organisations’ incident reporting database.

There will be times when the Police will have to be called to deal with situations that involve levels of serious violence with threats to life or involving weapons.

Incident Reporting should be easy to access and simple to record. The UK Health and Safety Executive offer this free and simple one page Violent Incident Report Form.

Once an incident has been recorded, it is up to managers to investigate the incident and as part of their ongoing risk assessment to decide what measures are required to deal with the issue.

How to Safely Manage Violence in the Workplace

Risk Reduction Model – Three measures

When some businesses and organisations experience an issue with violence, their first response is to spend large sums of money on equipment like Body worn video, CCTV, Protective screens, Security staff and even Body armour. These are called Primary measures.

To help managers, leaders and organisations reduce violence in the workplace at SALVAS we help and support them using a simple three step Violence risk reduction model

  • PRIMARY – These are prevention measures to reduce the risk and will include Violence at Work Policy and Procedure, Incident reporting procedures, Lone working procedures, Staffing levels, Mobile communications, Layout of buildings, Lighting, Panic alarms, CCTV etc, Training programmes for staff.
  • SECONDARY – Training staff on how to safely approach and effectively communicate with people who might be highly emotional or traumatised
  • TERTIARY – These are the Emergency measures to be taken when a serious situation occurs or escalates. Based on the risk and threat these might include additional physical skills. They will include support measures for managers and staff.

To be effective in reducing violence a continuous cycle of activity has to be undertaken at all levels in the business or organisation, within teams and locations and by individual staff members.

Understanding Human Behaviour

It’s important to understand what causes a situation to escalate from frustration or anger into aggression and even physical assault.

It also helps you to be aware of your own emotional state when interacting with others who may be upset and emotional.

Our Emotional brain is – the one that feels and

Our Rational brain – is the one that thinks and makes sense of what is happening.

Whenever we feel threatened we start preparing to survive. Our survival mode prepares us for Flight or Flight

If we feel threatened or are angered by someone’s behaviour towards us or by someone invading our intimate space or blocking our escape exits there is a high chance that a situation will escalate rapidly.

Our ability to make sense of a situation is reduced as is our means to think clearly

The more emotional we become the less rational we are in our thinking.


‘Triggers’ are anything which causes a situation to immediately escalate.

Some people have very specific triggers which affect their behaviours. It might be based on trauma in their life, or it could be related to a condition, disability, or disorder.

Common triggers to be aware of and which we should avoid are:

frustration, not being taken seriously, rudeness, being ignored, embarrassment, shame, fear, pain, thirst, hunger, cold, heat, confusion and LOSS.

During the Covid 19 pandemic, lots of people suffered differing types of loss including restrictions in travel, and inability to mix with friends and loved ones.

Many people had relatives catch Covid and were unable to visit them in the hospital or say goodbye before they died.

This led to increased levels of anxiety and fear which ‘triggered’ people, put them on edge and caused people to behave in ways that could be described as aggressive or threatening.

By understanding what makes people upset and angry we are better placed to communicate with them in a more positive manner.

Some Simple Communication tips to reduce Conflict

Chances are that we will not have positive feelings and thoughts for all the people we interact within the course of a working day.

If we have previously had a bad dealing with someone and feel negative towards them, we are highly likely to show that negativity through our behaviour.

It’s up to you as the professional to take control of a situation and show positive behaviour to customers and others.

Let’s look at how we can better communicate with another person who might be experiencing a difficult time.

Body language

  • Avoid staring and ensure your facial expressions are friendly
  • Show the other person open hands along with a non-aggressive stance
  • Allow the person space and a clear view of an exit – many people who have suffered trauma are easily triggered by having their escape route to safety blocked by people, furniture, or room layout.

Tone of Voice and Words

  • Speak slowly and Clearly – Introduce yourself – ‘Good Morning. I’m ……… How Can I help you’ ?
  • Use a tone of voice that shows your helpful and interested
  • Never shout over a person
  • If necessary, match the energy levels of a person to catch their attention

We hope you have found our article “How to Safely Manage Violence in the Workplace” useful.

At Salvas, we’ve worked with a wide range of businesses and services in both the public and private sectors to make the workplace a safer and, so, a more productive place for all, and we do that by tailoring training to your specific needs.

Workplace Personal Safety, Conflict Management and Safer De-escalation Training

Workplace violence is a sad fact of life in an increasingly stressed world, but effectively trained staff and management are the key to de-escalating it before it starts. SALVAS can help.


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