Physical and psychological health hazards and control
The HSE four-point action plan
Find out if there is a problem
This involves a risk assessment to determine what the real hazards are. It is essential to ask people at the workplace and, in some cases, a short questionnaire may be useful. Record all incidents to get a picture of what is happening over time, making sure that all relevant detail is recorded. The records should include:
• a description of what happened
• details of who was attacked, the attacker and any witnesses
• the outcome, including how people were affected and how much time was lost
• information on the location of the event.
Due to the sensitive nature of some aggressive or violent actions, employees may need to be encouraged to report incidents and protected from future aggression.
All incidents should be classified so that an analysis of the trends can be examined.
Consider the following:
• major injury
• less severe injury or shock which requires first-aid treatment, outpatient treatment, time off work or expert counselling
• threat or feeling of being at risk or in a worried or distressed state.
13.7.2 Decide on what action to take
It is important to evaluate the risks and decide who may be harmed and how this is likely to occur. The threats may be from the public or co-workers at the workplace or it may be as a result of visiting the homes of customers. Consultation with employees or other people at risk will improve their commitment to control measures and will make the precautions much more effective. The level of training and information provided, together with the general working environment and the design of the job, all have a significant influence on the level of risk.
Those people at risk could include those working in:
• reception or customer service points
• enforcement and inspection
• lone working situations and community based activities
• front line service delivery
• education and welfare
• catering and hospitality
• retail petrol and late night shopping operations
• leisure facilities, especially if alcohol is sold
• healthcare and voluntary roles
• policing and security
• mental health units or in contact with disturbed people
• cash handling or control of high value goods.
Consider the following issues:
• quality of service provided
• design of the operating environment
• type of equipment used
• designing the job.
Quality of service provided
The type and quality of service provision has a significant effect on the likelihood of violence occurring in the workplace. Frustrated people whose expectations have not been met and who are treated in an unprofessional way may believe they have the justification they seek to cause trouble.
Sometimes circumstances are beyond the control of the staff member and potentially violent situations need to be defused. The use of correct skills can turn a dissatisfied customer into a confirmed supporter simply by careful response to their concerns. The perceived lack of or incorrect information can cause significant frustrations.
Design of the operating environment
Personal safety and service delivery are very closely connected and have been widely researched in recent years. This has resulted in many organizations altering their facil¬ities to reduce customer frustration and enhance sales. It is interesting that most service points experience less violence when they remove barriers or screens, but the transition needs to be carefully planned in consultation with staff and other measures adopted to reduce the risks and improve their protection.
The layout, ambience, colours, lighting, type of background music, furnishings including their comfort, information, things to do while waiting and even smell all have a major impact. Queue jumping causes a lot of anger and frustration and needs effective signs and proper queue management, which can help to reduce the potential for conflict.
Wider desks, raised floors and access for special needs, escape arrangements for staff, carefully arranged furniture and screening for staff areas can all be utilized.
Type of security equipment used
There is a large amount of equipment available and expert advice is necessary to ensure that it is suitable and sufficient for the task. Some measures that could be considered include the following:
• Access control to protect people and property. There are many variations from staffed and friendly receptions, barriers with swipe-cards and simple coded security locks. The building layout and design may well partly dictate what is chosen. People inside the premises need access passes so they can be identified easily.
• Closed circuit television is one of the most effective security arrangements to deter crime and violence. Because of the high cost of the equipment, it is essential to ensure that proper independent advice is obtained on the type and the extent of the system required.
• Alarms – there are three main types:
• Intruder alarms fitted in buildings to protect against unlawful entry, particularly after hours
• Panic alarms used in areas such as receptions and interview rooms covertly located so that they can be operated by the staff member threatened
• Personal alarms carried by an individual to attract attention and to temporarily distract the attacker
• Radios and pagers can be a great asset to lone workers in particular, but special training is necessary as good radio discipline with a special language and codes are required
• Mobile phones are an effective means of communicating and keeping colleagues informed of people’s movements and problems such as travel delays. Key numbers should be inserted for rapid use in an emergency.
• Many things can be done to improve the way in which the job is carried out to improve security and avoid violence. These include:
• using cashless payment methods
• keeping money on the premises to a minimum
• careful check of customer or client’s credentials
• careful planning of meetings away from the workplace
• team work where suspected aggressors may be involved
• regular contact with workers away from their base. There are special services available to provide contact arrangements
• avoidance of lone working as far as is reasonably practicable
• thinking about how staff who have to work shifts or late hours will get home. Safe transport and/or parking areas may be required
• setting up support services to help victims of violence and, if necessary, other staff who could be affected. They may need debriefing, legal assistance, time off work to recover or counselling by experts.
13.7.3 Take the appropriate action
The arrangements for dealing with violence should be included in the safety policy and managed like any other aspect of the health and safety procedures. Action plans should be drawn up and followed through using the consultation arrangements as appropriate. The police should also be consulted to ensure that they are happy with the plan and are prepared to play their part in providing back up and the like.
13.7.4 Check that the action is effective
Ensure that the records are being maintained and any reported incidents are investigated and suitable action taken. The procedures should be regularly audited and changes made if they are not working properly.
Victims should be provided with help and assistance to overcome their distress, through debriefing, counselling, time off to recover, legal advice and support from colleagues.