21st Dec, 2021 Read time 4 minutes

The hidden danger of workplace violence on safety

When safety professionals go about their day to day work it is often focused on managing well-being, and workplace incidents. Whilst these are both crucial to good health and safety management, many overlook the impact of workplace violence, harassment and abuse and the impact that it can have on an individual and company-wide health and safety. 


What is workplace violence? 

Workplace violence is defined by Osha 2021 as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation or any other threatening/disruptive behaviour that may occur within an individual’s place of work. It can range from verbal abuse, physical assaults, sexual harassment and homicide. It is worth noting that some jurisdictions judge workplace harassment as separate from workplace violence. 

Many cases of workplace violence go undetected with many UK and US workers suffering from the effects of it in the workplace. 


Where does workplace violence occur? 

Workplace violence can occur in any workplace however areas where workplace violence may be more likely to happen includes services sector businesses where alcohol is served, workplaces where money is exchanged with the public, and working with volatile or unstable people. The time of day can alter the likelihood of workplace violence occurring with many roles performed late at night more likely to involve workplace violence in its various different forms. 


What are the four types of workplace of violence? 


  • Criminal Intent
  • Customer/Client
  • Worker on Worker
  • Personal relationship



Whilst not an expansive list, NIOSH (2021) has outlined 4 different types of workplace violence that can occur within a health care context but they can be extrapolated to other workplaces allowing for context adjustments. 



1. Criminal Intent

In this scenario, the perpetrator has no pre-existing relationship with the business and is usually in the process of committing a crime relating to the workplace or on their premises. This could be in relation to a nurse being assaulted or a care assistant being bugged. This typically occurs less than other types of workplace violence, at least in a health care setting. 



2. Customer/Client

Workplace violence can also occur within a customer/client context. In this situation, the client may be inflicting violence both physical and non-physical on the worker. This can also occur the other way with the worker committing acts of violence on the client. This is the most common form of workplace violence in a health care setting. 



3. Worker on Worker

Worker on worker violence is the form of workplace violence many think of when it comes to violence in an office environment. In this scenario (referred to as lateral or horizontal violence, various occurrences such as bullying, verbal abuse, and offensive behaviour can context violence between workers. This can often occur “down the food chain” but can also occur with people of a similar level of seniority. 



4. Personal relationship

The fourth type of violence that is most prevalent in a health care setting is personal relationships. This could be where the partner of a nurse has followed them to work and proceeded to abuse them physically and verbally at work.


What can be done to prevent workplace violence? 

Taking preventative measures against workplace violence can be part of a wider health and safety policy or given direction in its own right. In most instances, the onus should be on the perpetrator and not on the victim of the workplace violence to solve. 

There are some legal requirements that should be followed when hiring new employees and managing existing ones that can help put safeguards in place when managing the dangers of workplace violence. 

An effective policy that prevents workplace violence will ensure you are better covered from a legal perspective but are also clear where you stand with employees. 

Effective lines of communication and fostering an environment where people feel valued and can confide in senior management and others will help to highlight potentially hazardous situations when it comes to workplace violence. 

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