Front line staff are particularly exposed to violence and crime; this briefing looks at how to manage attacks and protect staff from avoidable situations.
The British Retail Crime Survey of 2004/2005 reports that violence against staff is of increasing concern for retailers and off license staff. Verbal abuse has increased by 35% and violent attack against staff by 14% against 2003 figures. The majority of all physical attacks on staff arise due to the prevention of theft and when dealing with angry customers or trouble makers.
So what can an employee do following an assault and what should employers do to manage and assess these risks?
At present, when a member of staff is injured, either psychologically or physically as a result of an assault, they may seek compensation under the governments tariff based Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
However, in December 2005, the Government launched a green paper on supporting victims of crime. The paper suggests that the present scheme for compensating victims of crime should focus compensation payment on those who have suffered serious injury. Employees, who have suffered lesser injuries during employment, will now be excluded from seeking compensation - this will have to be met solely by employers.
If, as anticipated, changes to the compensation scheme take place in 2006, a standard “Employers Liability” Insurance Policy is unlikely to cover injuries to staff arising out of violent crime if there was ‘no fault’ to be found on the employer. Also, more claims from lesser injured people are likely to go to the Civil Courts.
It is expected that victims will allege that their employers failed to reduce the risk of violent assault or deal appropriately with the employee following such an incident. As a consequence, employers will need to look carefully at their insurance cover. They may require an extension of their EL policy to provide cover for such events or secure a separate policy. In addition, the increased risk highlighted by the BRC and the burden which could now be placed directly on employers, is likely to increase the overall cost of insurance cover.
Whilst the direct cost of increased premiums is obvious, the indirect financial and personal costs suffered as a result of violence are harder to measure. Three quarters of all victims of violent physical assaults attend their GP resulting in an estimated 2.2 million working hours lost per year. Fear of violence amongst staff is also likely to lead to low morale and reduce the quality of customer service resulting in unmet sales targets and lower profitability. In addition, employees often feel aggrieved when management appears to be indifferent to their concerns - resulting in more compensation claims.
Whilst it is impossible to prevent all assaults, a number of steps can be taken to reduce the incidence and impact of work place violence. Violence is a health and safety risk and should be managed within the health and safety framework - to protect workers against other hazards arising from business activity. Most employers are now familiar with the concept of ‘due care’ and of the specific requirements the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. Yet many fail to recognise that violence must be managed with the same rigour as other hazards.
Risk assessment lies at the heart of any preventive programme, yet most employers struggle or make no attempt to assess the risk of violence. Workplace violence is a complex risk to manage, involving the unpredictable nature of people and understanding of criminal motivation.
The risk assessment should equip the employer with a deep understanding of the problem, including identifying vulnerable hours, locations, trigger situations, patterns and trends. This information could be gathered from a variety of sources including reported incidents and from local police. Front line staff often have the best insight into the problem and it is vital that they are included in the assessment process.
To eliminate or reduce risks, organisations should offer appropriate training on handling difficult customers, trouble makers and robberies. Also, staff assuming security and loss preventing roles will need extra training if they are likely to confront suspected thieves.
Other controls may involve the introduction or enhancement of physical security measures such as access control, CCTV, remote monitoring, safe areas, panic alarms and personal protective equipment. In some circumstances it may be possible to re-design the way in which work is carried out to eliminate any activity giving rise to risk. For example, if robbery en route to the bank is a local problem then cash collection could be considered as an alternative.
Violent crime is on the increase. It carries with it both an economic cost to employers and a personal cost to employees who fall victim. Therefore work place violence should be placed high on employer's health and safety agendas in 2006.
Noel Walsh is Head of workplace & safety at Weightmans solicitors.