Many people think of violence at work only in terms of physical attacks on members of staff by members of the public. However, in the context of workplace Health & Safety, the meaning of ‘violence’ includes all kinds of abusive, aggressive behaviour or actions that might contribute towards or result in physical and/or psychological harm happening.

This broadened interpretation has stemmed from the ‘duty of care’ obligation that all employers have to protect against the risk of harm happening and has arisen out of the need to be able to categorise incidents in order to be able to ‘manage down’ the risks.

The HSE definition was originally:

“Any incident where an EMPLOYEE is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well being or health.”

Then, it was amended to:

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

The latest HSE definition still doesn’t reflect that employers have a duty to protect others besides employees (e.g. customers, contractors, delivery agents and other visitors – even unwelcome intruders, etc.) So, adopting HSE’s definition could complicate reporting and controlling these risks.

Try this instead.

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

Choose carefully!

Remember, defining violence provides a template for everyone (staff, service recipients and other visitors) to use to define what is ‘reportable’ and what isn’t. So, try not to make the mistake of eliminating the prospect of gaining vital information by ‘defining it out’ in the definition you choose.