Work-related violence case studies
Estate agents and insurance staff
Royal and Sun Alliance is a large, multinational organisation in the financial services sector with offices in the UK and abroad. As a general insurer it has several components to its business, including site inspection; insurance provision; property assessment; belongings and health care provision; and a national network of estate agents.
This case study focuses on those employed in general insurance and estate agents.
The company has approximately 1 400 home workers who mostly work alone. Other lone workers include:
- claims advisers who deal with domestic insurance claims and often visit clients’ homes to help the customer complete the claim process;
- loss adjusters who deal mostly with commercial claims;
- health care case managers who assess medical claims for physical and mental injury; and
- estate agents and letting staff who show people around properties.
These lone workers work alone for 10 to 95 percent of their time and most are mobile workers. However, it is accepted that everyone within the business is considered to work alone at some time, for example either lone office working, working abroad or attending meetings away from the office.
- Visiting clients’ homes.
- When having to deny people money, claims Advisers can risk conflict and physical injury.
- Engineers go into lonely places (eg blocks of flats to inspect lifts).
- All staff dealing with the public are at some risk of violence or abuse.
Examples of incidents
- An employee was mugged while walking from a train station to a hotel.
- A field worker was assaulted in a client’s home.
- Car-jacking and road rage.
- Claims advisers barricaded in clients’ homes because claimants were not happy with the outcome.
- Threats of violence and verbal abuse by telephone and threatening text messages on work mobile phones.
The UK Health, Safety and Security Unit (UK HSSU) deals with health and safety measures and has trained about 550 Health, Safety and Security Officers (HSSOs). Targeting the ‘right people’ has helped to make the following measures successful. The UK HSSU emphasises training, particularly face-to-face training which enables instant feedback. Training programmes are audited and feedback is obtained.
Training and information
Raising awareness: this is considered the most successful way of preventing violence.
A one-day introductory training session: all HSSOs receive this. Further training is also available.
Bespoke training: this is considered essential. The UK HSSU provides it for certain parts of the business. For example, estate agents receive a session on personal safety during induction training; and all team managers in the Claims Adviser Service have been trained as HSSOs.
Key training messages:
- Lodge a call plan of your activities with someone who knows what to do if you do not make the call when expected.
- Tell someone if you are doing something with increased risk such as inspecting a confined space in a remote location. Let them know where you will be and what you will be doing.
- Do it for yourself: you must take responsibility for your own safety.
- If you do not feel safe, you do not have to go. Management supports this but requires alternative action to be taken to get the job done.
- Avoid situations by being aware of them – don’t put yourself at risk.
Leaflets, posters and video: to raise awareness these are available to all staff and distributed specifically to those at higher risk. Printed matter covers working alone, travelling on business and working at home. Posters are placed where people are more likely to read them, eg tea-making points. Each home-worker receives a copy of a video covering home-working safety issues.
Information on violent incidents: this is provided to staff manually and electronically.
Policy development: it is essential to have a policy on work-related violence that is relevant to all employees.
A research project: this was conducted into lone working estate agents and one aim was to assess risks and effectiveness of current measures.
Sharing information: the UK HSSU shares information with other businesses.
Personal attack alarms: staff receive these if they request them.
Mobile phones: a pre-programmed number links claims advisers to their administrative centre. The centre has the lone worker’s car details and call plan information so it can quickly send for help. This measure has been very successful because the claims advisers are disciplined in ensuring the information is up to date. However, it is important that mobile phones are not perceived as offering protection. They are only a means of summoning assistance. Employees are required to read the signs and signals leading to a potentially violent situation to take action in advance.
National distress code: estate agents use code to make emergency contact with their offices. When they call, colleagues use appropriate questions to establish the problem and the level of response required.
Sanctions: withdrawing insurance cover could affect a person’s ability to obtain cover elsewhere. It is used when considered appropriate and demonstrates management support for the victims of violence. This may deter clients from being violent or abusive in the future.
Buddy system: recommended for all lone workers. If someone lives on their own, they should ring someone to let them know they have arrived home safely.
Combining the Health and Safety Unit and the Security Unit: much of the work and problems of the two units overlap.
Less successful measures
Some of the measures have been less effective or have disadvantages:
Personal attack alarms: these are perceived as ‘rape alarms’ which means that men are less likely to use them.
National Distress Code: initially this system was not very successful, mainly because of a lack of awareness about how to respond when the code is used. Improvements include more staff information, posters and training.
Other measures considered
Mobile phones with global positioning systems: these were considered too expensive as there was insufficient need for their specific technology. Banning employees from staying in specific hotels or hotel chains, following incidents: the UK HSSU advise against ‘knee jerk’ reactions.
The benefits and the costs
Staff satisfaction: feedback indicates that staff are happy with the measures, particularly training.
Feeling valued: staff are confident that the company will support them. They feel valued and looked after.
Broad applications: training applies not only to work-related activities. People who attend are encouraged to share what they learn about personal safety with family and friends.
An investment in loyalty: if the company demonstrates it is making an effort to protect employees, employees are more likely to make an effort too. This increases loyalty to the company, and productivity.
Good management: the measures underpin the company’s determination to ensure good management. In particular, managers have to strike a balance in the security profile – too much security can be attractive to street criminals because of the belief that there is something worth protecting.
Collaboration: success in implementing control measures involves the full support and cooperation of management and staff.
Increased awareness: there has not been a reduction in the number of incidents, but this is likely to be because of increased awareness leading to more incidents reported.
Negligible costs: several measures cost nothing to implement, for example personal awareness, local knowledge and the buddy system.