Violence at Work – Training

Please Note: Protection against violence and aggression cannot be achieved and maintained by the provision of staff training alone. It is usually best to ensure management controls (i.e. Policies, Risk Assessment, Behaviour Plans, Reporting Systems, Safe Practice Guidance and Instructions and Crisis Procedures) are established – before deciding on the content of the training to be provided.

Is Staff Training necessary?

In some circumstances, adequate Guidance, Instruction and Supervision may mean that no “staff training” as such is required.

However, in many cases staff training would be considered “an essential reasonable step” and a failure to provide it would constitute negligence on the part of the employer as well as an offence under the Health & Safety at Work legislation.

For example, training that helps to reduce the risks of becoming a victim of violent assault or to avoid becoming the perpetrator of an unlawful assault may be considered a must for all employees whose workplace, role (or occupation) is, or can be, associated with:

  • A high risk of assaults on staff
  • Responsibility for manually handling and physically controlling people

What training do Staff need?

Staff Training needs will be identified from the Workplace Risk Assessment process, which should take into account the nature of the work processes being conducted, any history of incidents, the environment, the characteristics of the client group, working practice and procedures, the individual capabilities of each employee AND the kind of role in the safety arrangements that they are expected to play.

What might a Staff Training Programme include?

All employees need to know and understand:

a) The nature and extent of the risks being faced (whether from internal bullying or aggression from service recipients).

b) The employer’s policies, safety arrangements and safe practice procedures (and the reasoning underpinning them).

c) Common Law obligations and statutory health and safety responsibilities.

d) Their rights and responsibilities as individuals and as employees (including S44 Employment Protection Act 1996).

e) Other people’s rights.

f) The law in relation to the use of force.

g) What to report, when to report and who to report to.

h) The characteristics (and sensitivities) of the particular client group being serviced.

i) Warning & Danger signs – so as to be able to anticipate problems and recognise trouble brewing.

j) How best to behave if someone becomes aggressive – including avoiding “triggers”.

k) How best to respond to verbal abuse and threats of assault.

l) The importance of always maintaining a safe distance and an egress route.

m) How to summon support (verbally, by telephone, by radio, by panic alarm).

n) Where to go to get help (and be safe).

o) The availability of professional counselling in the event of victimisation to help to minimise the impact and protect against Post Traumatic Stress

Some employees will need more specialised training

Each employee needs only to be able and competent to carry out their particular role in the safety arrangements. However, where an employee’s duties include a specific responsibility they will need training in how to perform their task safely.

For example:

Those employees (supervisors and junior managers) who have been assigned the role of ‘resolving conflicts’ may benefit from training in:

  • How to communicate effectively with people whose ability to comprehend their situation is limited
  • How to de-escalate and defuse anger, hostility and aggression
  • What to do in the event these strategies fail or would not be of any practical benefit (e.g. The person attacks or is behaving in such a dangerous way they need to be physically restrained)

Employees assigned to carry out ’emergency procedures’ for ‘serious and imminent danger from violence’ (e.g. security guards) must be competent to carry out the procedures and will be likely to need training in how to practically carry out the procedures – including how to approach, intervene, hold and restrain people safely. This cannot be accomplished from a training manual alone!

Lone Working

People who work away from the workplace or in situations which mean they are isolated from the immediate support of others may benefit from training in how to reduce the risks of violence.

HSE have provided guidance on lone working – Working Alone  and Lone Working Case Studies.

What is training in ‘verbal de-escalation’ about?

Verbal de-escalation is a process in which an upset / angry / potentially violent person is calmed down and redirected to peaceable behaviour. It’s also known, amongst other things, as ‘defusing anger’, ‘talk-down’ and ‘conflict resolution’ and ‘conflict management’.

More Info

What are ‘Breakaway’ Skills?

‘Breakaway’ is a term that has come to mean any training in practical (i.e physical) techniques for releasing from common grips, grabs and strangles and self defence.

There’s a lot of controversy about the purpose, suitability and usefulness of this kind of training for employees and a great deal of care is recommended before subscribing – or participating!

More Info

‘Physical Management’ Skills

Physical Management skills is the latest ‘cover all’ term to describe all kinds of physical interventions which can be used to manually restrict or limit a person’s mobility or movement.

Yes, there is a lot to be concerned about!

More Info:

Do your staff need training in ‘Physical Management’ Skills?

The Courts now recognise the need for some employees working in certain occupations to have training in ‘physical management’ skills.

Where a risk of danger is known to exist either from violent people (including young children) or from someone whose conduct can be predicted to sometimes bring a responsibility on employees to relieve that person of their responsibility for themselves, in order to prevent serious harm happening (e.g. mental ill health/ learning difficulties, psychotic patients), an employer may well be considered negligent if they don’t provide employees with training in how to carry out their ‘duty’ to minimise the risks.

What standard of training do staff have to have?

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations requires employers to provide all employees with suitable training to a standard “commensurate with the level of risk being faced”. Each workplace will be different.

What would indicate that the legal standard had been achieved?

There isn’t an Officially Approved National Standard of Training to deal with violence at work. However, where a consensus exists amongst the staff facing the risks that the safety provisions (including staff training) are adequate AND the facts (not necessarily the records kept) support this opinion, the circumstances will indicate that the ‘legal standard’ will have been met .

So, staff opinion on the adequacy of any training provided is a crucial factor that cannot be ignored.

Note: Even if staff are prepared to testify that the arrangements and training programme are adequate enough, if the history of the workplace reveals that incidents of serious harm have been occurring and there are reasons to believe more are likely to occur, this will indicate a failure to achieve the legal standard.

How long should training courses be?

To be worthwhile, the duration of training needs to be long enough for all the trainees to achieve the learning objectives – and the learning objectives should be derived from the Risk Assessment (i.e. not from the Training provider’s brochure.)

How often should refresher Training be given?

As often as is necessary – as determined by the Risk Assessment Process!

Is there proof training is effective?

There are few people left who would argue that training employees to deal with workplace violence doesn’t help to reduce the incidence and severity of outcome of subsequent events; and a great many ‘ trainees’ would also testify that the ‘training’ they received was key to the successful resolution of post training conflicts they had to deal with.

However, unfortunately, efforts to counter violence at work have to a large degree been addressed in an unsystematic, ad hoc fashion by most employers. As a result, research into the successfulness of employee training programmes lacks rigorous, large-scale trials. Much of what has been done consists of small, short term, uncontrolled studies where ‘follow-ups’ have been inadequate or absent. Consequently, hardly any ‘hard evidence’ exists to substantiate the effectiveness of training programmes or elements thereof.

(Note: In order to prove negligence on the part of an employer for failing to provide adequate training, an employee has to be able to show that the employer failed to take “reasonable steps” to prevent the adverse outcome happening. The onus is on the claimant to prove that the “reasonable step” the employer failed to take would have worked. Cynical commentators have suggested that this is the reason for the absence of government sponsored research to categorically “prove” that training works!)

What are the results of HSE research that has been done?

In 2004, the HSE commissioned the Institute of Work, Health and Organisations at Nottingham University to research how violence management training* provided to UK Healthcare Staff works at three distinct time points: (i) before incidents occur (prevention) (ii) as they unfold (interaction) and (iii) in the period following an incident (rehabilitation)

* Violence management training’ means training given to nurses, doctors and other health professionals, for example, de-escalation, breakaway moves, physical intervention / control and restraint.

It was the first ever national evaluation of ‘violence management training* provided to UK Healthcare Staff.

The objective was to identify the value of different elements within an overall training approach to the management of violence.

The intention was to be able to:

1. Produce an evidence based evaluation of the effectiveness of current violence and aggression training programmes across a range of healthcare settings.

2. Develop a suite of tools and instructions for dutyholders (& HSE Inspectors) to use, covering:

a. an assessment of training needs and the extent to which available training meets them
b. the evaluation of training
c. an analysis of current provision against best-practice standards.

The research results:

On 28th March 2006, the results of the HSE sponsored research were published on the HSE’s web site in the form of two complementary reports. Part 1, is the Research Report. It details the key research findings in answer to two fundamental questions:

1. What impact does violence management training have?

2. What is the broad content and curriculum of the most effective violence management training?

Part 2 is the companion Practitioner Report. This report specifically addresses the issues of how to evaluate training and offers a series of tools to support and guide those with a responsibility or interest in designing, delivering or managing violence management training.

Main findings:

…training given to healthcare staff to deal with violence at work is generally yielding positive, but limited, short-term benefits. (Apparently any benefit of training is largely lost within a matter of months)

… some poorly thought-out training is having a negative effect, leaving staff feeling more anxious and less capable of coping with the verbal and physical abuse aimed at them (i.e. scenario role plays.)

Training tends to have the greatest degree of impact (i.e. change) and value (i.e. contributing to the protective sense of health and well-being) when the knowledge and skill topics emphasised within the overall programme are situated within the broader context of an organisation’s performance management in terms of its systems and procedures to prevent and manage violence and aggression.

Training in violence management is most effective when:

  • The content has a broader focus than simply developing individual competence;
  • The content tends to be more closely allied to perceived need; and
  • The content clearly demonstrates (i.e. includes evidence) of a proactive organisational response to workplace violence.

Report recommendations

A national approach to the evaluation of training must be developed and implemented and the criteria against which training is to be evaluated needs to indicate the impact of training on both individual and organisational health.

A better understanding of what works to reduce the risks of violence is also needed and a platform to facilitate information sharing would be helpful. (This was a primary function of the NHS Zero Tolerance Zone web site, but the NHS Security Management Service dismantled it back in October 2005.)

What else was confirmed?

Training is not a ‘stand alone’ solution to workplace related violence.

It is strongly recommended that you read the HSE Report

Click Here (.pdf)

How can employers assess the success of their Training Programme?

Employers should always set clear Training Objectives and afterwards consult with Trainees to get direct feedback on the course including whether or not the aims were achieved. (The way to get truthful input is to provide for employees to supply information anonymously.)

However, the best and quickest way to assess the success of an anti violence training programme is to get out amongst the workforce and get a sense of the atmosphere on the “shop floor”.

Are the staff self assured, calm, efficient and composed, or are they rushed (overburdened), tense, agitated and short tempered?

Ask them for their suggestions on how their situation could be improved.

The next step is to support your observations and questioning by comparing absenteeism rates, sickness rates and staff turnover before and after the training and assess whether or not Policy “targets” are being / have been met. (e.g to reduce the number of incidents involving physical violence by 25% in a year).

External Oversight

Assessment by an external, independent party will produce a truer, more unbiased picture than if the exercise is conducted ‘in house’.

Staff granted anonymity will be more likely to ‘open up’ to an independent assessor than to risk ‘upsetting the cart’ by complaining about safety shortcomings to their line managers.

So, if you really want to know the real situation – warts and all – consider hiring in a professional to carry out your survey.