Workplace Safety – Whose Responsibility?

In today’s dynamic and hectic work environments, ensuring the health and safety of employees must be of paramount importance for employers.

The Health & Safety Executive previously produced data in 2020 that outlined the prevalence of aggression and violence affecting businesses and workforces across the UK.

Approximately 688,000 incidents of aggression and violence were reported in the workplace in England and Wales alone.

Around 300,000 of these were assaults.

These are the figures that we know about, what about the incidents that weren’t reported.  Is it possible that the number of incidents across this period could have been in excess of 1,336,000?

The Health and Safety at Work Act, one of the ‘go to’ reference points of workplace safety legislation, imposes a duty of care on employers to protect their employees from foreseeable risks.

One crucial aspect of this duty is addressing work-related violence, as defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)…work-related violence encompasses any incident in which a person is abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances related to their work.

Let’s look at some of the implications of the Health and Safety at Work Act in relation to an employer’s duty of care and delve into the HSE’s definition of work-related violence.

The Foundation for Workplace Safety

Enacted in 1974, the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) in the United Kingdom has been a cornerstone in shaping the safety landscape in workplaces.

The primary objective of the HSWA is to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety, and welfare of all employees at work.

It places a legal duty on employers to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of their employees and others who may be affected by their activities.

Foreseeable Risks and the Employer Duty of Care

The concept of foreseeable risks is central to understanding the employer’s duty of care.

Employers are expected to anticipate and address risks that are reasonably foreseeable in the context of their business operations.

This includes identifying potential hazards, assessing risks, and implementing measures to control and mitigate those risks.

In the context of the Health and Safety at Work Act, foreseeability requires employers to proactively identify and manage risks that could pose harm to their employees.

This encompasses a broad range of factors, including physical hazards, psychological stressors, and the risk of violence in the workplace.

Failure to address foreseeable risks can lead to serious consequences, both for the well-being of employees and the legal standing of the employer.

HSE’s Definition and Reporting Requirements

Work-related violence is a significant concern in modern workplaces, spanning across all industries and job roles.

The Health and Safety Executive provides a comprehensive definition of work-related violence, describing it as any incident in which a person is abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances related to their work.

What makes this definition particularly robust is its inclusivity — it encompasses incidents where the behaviours are implicit or explicit in their design or nature.

Implicit behaviours may include subtle forms of abuse or threats, such as bullying, harassment, or intimidation, which can have profound effects on an individual’s well-being.

On the other hand, explicit behaviours involve overt acts of violence or direct threats that put employees at immediate risk.

Importantly, the HSE mandates that all incidents of work-related violence, whether implicit or explicit, should be treated as reportable incidents.

This reporting requirement underscores the gravity with which such incidents are regarded, emphasising the need for employers to take proactive measures in preventing, managing, and responding to work-related violence.

A Proactive Approach to Workplace Safety

Employers must adopt a proactive approach to prevent work-related violence and fulfil their duty of care obligations.

This involves a combination of risk assessment, implementation of control measures, and fostering a culture of awareness and accountability within the organisation.

Risk Assessment: Identifying and Understanding Risks. Before preventive measures can be implemented, employers must conduct a thorough risk assessment to identify potential sources of work-related violence.

This may involve considering the nature of the work, the environment, and any relevant external factors that could contribute to violence.

Control Measures: Mitigating Risks Effectively. Once risks are identified, employers should implement control measures to mitigate and manage those risks.

These measures may include implementing security measures, providing training on conflict prevention, management and resolution and communication skills, and creating clear policies and procedures for reporting and responding to         incidents.

Creating a Supportive Work Environment. Building and developing a positive and supportive work environment can go a long way in preventing work-related violence.

This includes promoting open communication, providing resources for employee well-being, and fostering a culture that does not tolerate harassment or bullying.

Training and Education: Empowering Employees. Training programmes that educate employees about the risks of work-related violence and provide them with the skills to recognise and respond to potential incidents are crucial.

This includes training on conflict resolution, de-escalation techniques, and reporting procedures.

Policies: Setting Clear Expectations.  Employers should establish and communicate their clear stance within policies regarding work-related violence.

This sends a strong message that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and there will be consequences for those who engage in it.

Reporting and Responding to Incidents

In the unfortunate event that a work-related violence incident does occur, it is imperative for employers to have robust reporting and response procedures in place.

This involves creating channels for employees to report incidents confidentially, conducting thorough investigations, and taking appropriate disciplinary action against perpetrators.

In summary

The employer’s duty of care, as outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act, is a fundamental commitment to the well-being of their employees.

Addressing foreseeable risks, particularly those related to work-related violence, requires a proactive, transparent and comprehensive approach.

By conducting thorough risk assessments, implementing control measures, fostering a supportive work environment, and providing education and training, employers can create safer workplaces for their employees.

Moreover, adherence to the Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence and the reporting of all incidents underscores the gravity of this issue and the collective responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of the workforce.

The author of this blog: who is Trevel Henry?

I am a long-established trainer and consultant.

I was the former head of training for a major Police Service, so I have experience in not only delivering training but experience in developing, reviewing, evaluating and auditing training too.

Whilst working there I was regularly asked by the Professional Standards Unit, previously known as the Complaints and Discipline Unit to review disciplinary cases, many of which involved the use of force.

I am a highly respected Expert Witness on the Use of Reasonable Force in the UK and overseas.

I have done hundreds of expert witness cases.

I have worked on high profile cases where restraint related issues have been a key factor, involving the police, prison, security, schools, care setting, NHS and young people’s services.

So, what does this mean to you?

It means that NFPS Ltd can provide training for you that is legally defensible.

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