What is Violence at Work?

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) definition of violence at work is:

‘Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’.


A problem with the HSE definition is that it restricts ‘victims of violence at work’ to those who suffer violence relating to their work and excludes all other victims (e.g. victims of patient on patient violence and staff on patient violence in a hospital), when the fact is that employers have a duty to protect others besides people who are working for them (e.g. customers, contractors, delivery agents and other visitors – even unwelcome intruders, etc.) Also, in a lot of cases, violent behaviour is directed at property and this too is excluded by the HSE’s definition.

So, from a risk management perspective, HSE’s definition of violence at work is not broad enough and adopting the HSE’s definition for incident reporting purposes could deny management important information needed to control risk.

The fact is that HSE is focused exclusively on the Health & Safety legislation and not other civil liability aspects and so, when taken in isolation, HSE comments may present a distorted perspective. For example, HSE stating that a particular situation does not fall within the scope of the Health & Safety legislation may give the impression that an employer’s liability in such circumstances is not compromised, when in fact, under the common law or contract law, the employer may well be liable for what happens.

Every workplace is at risk of violence

The potential for violence to happen exists in every single workplace, even where parties do not actually meet in person (e.g. Telesales canvassers being verbally abused by people they contact on the telephone).

Violence can manifest in a wide variety of different forms – physical and non physical.

Violence can errupt at any time and every single violent incident has the potential to end in a person’s death*.

* Bullying is a contributory factor in an alarming number of suicides and, whether intentional or not, use of physical force will always bring a possibility of a loss of life. Just pushing someone, for example, could cause them to lose their balance and bash/ break their head/neck falling on a hard surface.