Violence in health and social care

Health and social care employees should not accept incidents of violent or aggressive behaviour as a normal part of the job. They have a right to expect a safe and secure workplace.

Violent and aggressive incidents are the third biggest cause of injuries reported under RIDDOR from the health and social care sector. Employers and employees should work together to establish systems to prevent or reduce aggressive behaviour.

What you need to know

What is work related violence?

HSE defines work-related violence as 'Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.'

Examples of violent and aggressive behaviour include:

  • A carer bitten by a person with learning disabilities in the course of the normal care of that person
  • An irate visitor who considers that his relative has not been properly treated verbally abuses a ward manager.
  • A nurse verbally abused and threatened by a patient who is unwilling to take prescribed medication.
  • A catering assistant providing refreshments is hit by a confused elderly patient.

What is the risk?

The main risk is the verbal abuse or physical assault of an employee or other person. There is a high level of under-reporting of incidents of violence and aggression within the health and social care sector, as many accept it as part of the job.

Who is at risk?

Employees, visitors, contractors and users of services are all at potential risk. Incidents arise primarily because the work involves contact with a wide range of people in circumstances, which may be difficult. People receiving care and their relatives may be anxious and worried; some may be predisposed towards violence.

Employees involved in the following activities are at increased risk of violence and aggressive behaviour:

  • working alone;
  • working after normal working hours;
  • working and travelling in the community;
  • handling valuables or medication;
  • providing or withholding a service;
  • exercising authority;
  • working with people who are emotionally or mentally unstable;
  • working with people who are under the influence of drink or drugs;
  • working with people under stress.

It is important to consider all groups of employees that might be affected. Ancillary staff such as cleaners or caterers, and bank or agency staff are often overlooked.

What the law says

Health and safety law applies to the risks from violence, just as it does to other risks from work activities. Relevant legislation includes:

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Updated 2023-03-13