Summary of key points
All of the organisations presented in this report, regardless of their size or income, have found a number of ways to manage the risk of violence to their lone working staff.
Key violence risks
We asked the case study organisations what the key violence risks were, and how they identified them. In the main, they identified the risks by initially carrying out a risk assessment. It was helpful to talk to staff and management about their experiences of violence; and draw on previous incidents of violence to help analyse the scale and nature of the problem.
The most common key risks were:
- Alcohol and drug use, by clients and members of the public with whom the lone worker comes into contact. Alcohol and drug use can make people aggressive and their behaviour unpredictable.
- Geographical locations. Certain areas of towns or cities, eg town centres or council estates, were known to have a higher risk of violence.
- Late evening/early morning work. Working during these times carried an increased risk of violence because there were generally either fewer people around, a greater number of ‘unsavoury characters’, or people under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Nature of the job. In some jobs lone workers hold positions of power or authority over customers or clients which can cause resentment and cause people to be more aggressive.
- Clients or customer behaviour. For a number of reasons, clients or customers can be highly emotional, unpredictable or aggressive.
- Other people or situations encountered whilst doing job. These include members of the public, youths and animals.
- Travelling, visiting homes and carrying money or equipment were also identified as key risks.
Consequences of violence
We asked organisations what they thought the consequences of violence were.
Effects on the individual
- Stress, anxiety, fear and depression. Also resulting from having to deal with persistent verbal abuse.
- Stress-related health problems. Often leading to long-term sick leave.
- Psychological problems. For example, employees may sometimes feel partly to blame for violent incidents, or feel they have failed in some way.
- Low morale and loss of confidence. This can affect an employees’ ability to do some or all of their job.
- Physical harm and injury. Leading to sick leave.
Consequent impacts on the organisation
- Staff retention and recruitment problems. For example, hearing about violent incidents may make the job less attractive to potential recruits; and experienced staff may leave a job if they no longer feel safe or able to cope.
- Sick leave. This can result from stress-related health problems or a physical injury following a violent incident.
- Low productivity. High levels of sick leave; staff refusal to do certain jobs, high insurance premiums and compensation claims; and breakdown in client-professional relationship – can all have a detrimental impact on an organisation’s productivity and profitability.
- Impact on the self-employed. Self-employed people could ultimately lose their livelihood and be faced with limited work choices.
Most common successful measures
We asked organisations to list the most successful ways of managing and preventing violence to their lone working staff. This is how they responded:
Training and information
The provision of training and information was predominant.
- Risk assessments. Conducting a risk assessment of the tasks of the lone worker was seen as essential. Employers need to find out if there is a problem, decide what action to take, take action, and review the action.
- Training. Some sort of personal safety or violence prevention training was provided by all organisations. Training was provided in-house or by an external organisation, and could be formal or informal. The key training messages conveyed were:
- Do not go into a situation if you feel at risk.
- Use conflict resolution or defusing techniques. These include being aware of non-verbal communication; how to behave in a non-confrontational way; the importance of good customer care; being polite; and listening to clients.
- Be aware of surroundings. Keep your wits about you at all times and be aware of the situation you are in. Be aware of your own actions and how others may perceive you.
- If you feel threatened, make your excuses and leave. Make sure you can leave the premises quickly if you need to.
Good communication and sharing of information between employees, and with external organisations and professional bodies where appropriate, was seen as essential. This included:
- Liaison with police. The police have helped some of the participating organisations, providing advice on personal safety and related issues; helping with specific visits or incidents; and also providing local knowledge of the area.
- Letting staff know where lone workers are. The use of work diaries and information boards to show the location of lone workers during the day was seen as essential by some of the participating organisations.
- Sharing experiences and concerns. This happened between employees within an organisation and between other relevant organisations. Organisations have found the following practices helpful:
- Use an early warning or flagging system. This alerts colleagues
about potentially violent clients, or problem areas.
- Talk about specific concerns and incidents. Organisations believed that relevant and practical solutions can be more easily found when problems and ideas are shared.
- Report all incidents. This helps management to evaluate and monitor the true scale and nature of violence and abuse incidents and so help to develop an effective policy to deal with the problem.
- Company policy, guidance, leaflets and posters. All staff should be made aware of the company policy on work-related violence.
- Management support. In many organisations violence prevention measures have the full commitment and support of senior management. Managers felt that it was important that all staff should know this.
Work equipment and environment
- Use of mobile phones or other communication device. Mobile phones were very popular. Lone workers use them to call for help if needed and to let others know where and how they are.
- Personal alarms. These were also popular and helped staff feel more confident about their safety.
The environment in which lone working is carried out will determine how and whether it can be modified or designed to help prevent incidents of violence. The following measures were the most common:
- Panic alarm in building. This alerts other colleagues who work nearby or the security room.
- CCTV. Some organisations had CCTV installed in areas where lone workers operate.
- Doubling-up. Some organisations send two people to carry out a job if there is thought to be a possible risk of violence or if the employee has particular concerns.
- Self risk assessments. The lone worker is encouraged to regularly assess the situation they are in and the risks to which they are exposed.
- Recruitment and selection. Some organisations apply strict recruitment criteria to ensure that only those who are highly suited to lone working are selected for the job. Withdrawal of service/sanctions/prosecution. As a last resort, organisations can withdraw their service, implement sanctions, or threaten prosecution if their lone workers experience violence or abuse.
Factors which reduce the effectiveness of measures
The main difficulty with many of the measures described in these case studies was reliance on individual action. Some measures rely on the individual to do something, for example, to tell someone where they are or to activate an alarm or system etc. This means that human error or neglect to do so can make even the best system ineffective. Companies commented that other factors can also reduce the effectiveness of measures, including:
- lack of attendance at training courses due to pressures of work;
- not carrying a personal alarm within easy reach or knowing how to use it; and
- not always being able to avoid potentially violent situations because it goes against a person’s ‘natural instincts’. For example, in a robbery situation, a member of staff might find it difficult to hand over expensive equipment/money without resistance.
Some organisations had tried and then abandoned measures which were found to be less successful, or had decided at the outset against introducing particular measures. Some examples were teaching staff in self-defence techniques, the wearing of formal security-style uniforms, and use of ‘hot lines’ to the police.
How the measures were developed
We asked the organisations where they got their ideas from. The following sources were mentioned:
- From staff themselves. Staff who are themselves lone workers and who may have experienced incidents or threats of violence often have some useful ideas of their own about how certain incidents might have been prevented or what future actions should be taken.
- Information and advice from external organisations. There are many
sources of information and help that can be accessed. Some of those
· the Suzy Lamplugh Trust;
· the Police;
· the Home Office;
· articles in health and safety magazines;
· NHS advice;
· safety and security consultancies; and
· security/safety system manufacturers.
- Information from violent incidents. Organisations have learnt from the experience and knowledge of previous violent incidents and used this to help inform the development of effective strategies to manage work-related violence.
The benefits of violence prevention measures
All of the organisations reported many benefits from having measures in place to tackle work-related violence. These included:
- improved staff confidence in dealing with violent incidents;
- staff feel more safe and secure when going about their jobs;
- staff feel supported and valued by their organisation
- a reduction in violent incidents, and in some cases zero incidents being reported;
- improvement in working relationships and communication between staff;
- improvement in the standard of customer service;
- reduced staff turnover; and
- improved productivity and profitability due to less staff sick leave,
improvements in staff efficiency and output, lower recruitment costs,
improved company image etc.
Many organisations agreed that it was difficult to quantify the costs of violence prevention measures and took the view that ‘you cannot put a price on safety’. While only a small number had carried out an evaluation of their violence measures, all were able to express a view about their cost effectiveness. Interestingly, some found an increase in the number of reported incidents following the introduction of violence measures. This can happen when new measures are introduced because it tends to increase the level of awareness among staff.
- The benefits outweigh the costs. All believed that the benefits of the measures outweighed the costs incurred.
- Reduction in the number of incidents reported. Several organisations said that they either had no reported incidents of physical violence or that the number of incidents had recently decreased. However incidents of verbal abuse often went unreported.
- A non-confrontational approach costs nothing. Behaving in a polite, helpful and non-aggressive manner does not cost anything.
- Systems or equipment used for other business purposes. Many of the violence prevention measures in place were also essential for other aspects of the business, and therefore were cost effective for the organisation.
- Some equipment incurs minimal cost. For some organisations, the cost of equipment and other material, (eg leaflets/guidance) is minimal compared to the overall income of the organisation.
- Improvement in customer/client service. Staff feel more happy and confident in their work, knowing they have proper support and systems in place to help them deal with potential violence and abuse, and they are therefore more likely to provide a better service to customers and clients.
These case studies show that whatever the size, location or nature of the organisation, there are many simple, practical and cost effective measures which employers can use to help prevent and manage the risk of violence to lone workers. In particular, they show that effective measures do not have to be expensive. The most effective solutions usually arise from the way the business is run, such as staff training, job design and changes to the physical environment. High technology and high cost security equipment will normally only be needed where there is a particularly high risk of violence.