Providing support after an incident
Despite conducting a risk assessment and putting control measures in place, there may be times when your staff experience work-related violence. Physical violence against staff is uncommon, but verbal abuse can happen more regularly. Either way, if an incident occurs you will need to support your staff and may have to consider whether further actions are needed.
There can be numerous consequences for staff following incidents of crime or violence, including verbal abuse. These consequences can either affect the member of staff directly involved or those who witnessed the incident. They include:
- lack of confidence;
- insomnia and nightmares;
- difficulties performing tasks;
- absenteeism and fear;
- feelings of incompetence;
- increased use of alcohol, caffeine and medication;
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The support you provide to your staff will depend on the severity of the incident and how much your employees are affected. The key points to remember are:
- victims of aggression will be affected in different ways and with differing levels of severity.
- sensitive and appropriate support is needed to reduce the suffering of the victim.
- you should make sure victims are not blamed for the incident.
- check all staff know what to do if an incident occurs.
It is important that staff of the appropriate level within your company are dealing with post-incident situations and that they are fully trained in the procedures.
Dealing with the immediate aftermath of an incident
How you and your staff react immediately following an incident of work-related violence will depend on the severity of the incident and the specific needs of the victim. If your staff experience verbal abuse, it may be enough to provide friendly support for the victim, and report or record the incident.
For more serious incidents, here are some actions that may be necessary:
- Provide immediate support.
- Try not to leave a member of staff who has been a victim of violence or witnesses violence alone following the incident - this can be when they are most vulnerable. But be sensitive to the way different people react to incidents - some may want time alone in a safe place.
- Be aware that staff may also require medical care.
- Notify the police.
- If appropriate, notify the police as soon as possible. Co-operate with interviews, give as much description as possible and go to the station if they need you to. Investigate and record the incident.
- Secure premises and evidence.
- In the event of a serious incident you and your staff should secure premises/close premises to safeguard evidence and reduce distractions. Doors should be shut and locked and a member of staff should guard them.
- You should also secure any CCTV/photo evidence. Your local police can provide guidance on this.
- Arrange communications.
- Decide who will take charge of operations and communications. This should have been previously established within your company's organisations and arrangements.
- Keep the telephone line open.
- If appropriate, agree liaison arrangements with the media and what information should be given to the media. Try and work with the police when deciding on this.
- Make arrangements for staff to get home if required.
- Try and get back to normal.
- Ensure work is covered and restored to normal as soon as possible. You may need to change the working conditions or role of some staff.
Providing medical care
- Provide prompt care.
- Make sure any injured employees receive prompt and appropriate medical care.
- Ideally, provide an area for medical attention.
- Provide an adequately equipped first-aid room, where possible. This should mean that medical attention can be provided faster and in more suitable surroundings.
- Keep in touch with staff who are receiving care.
- You may wish to consider visiting staff in hospital or at home to give them your support and increase the likelihood of a quick return to work. Make sure staff know this will happen.
Providing support to the person affected by an incident and their colleagues could help to reduce the risk of longer-term, stress-related illness. This applies to incidents of verbal abuse as well as physical violence.
- Provide an opportunity to talk.
- Give affected staff opportunities to talk openly about the incident, express their feelings and give constructive support. People are more likely to cope with an incident, have less fear, and have increased job satisfaction and commitment, if they get positive support from colleagues and managers. Bear in mind that other staff may need support, even if they were not directly involved in an incident, because of increased fear and anxiety.
- Offer sensitive debriefing as soon as practicable after the incident and make sure both management and colleagues support and offer reassurance to the victim. It may also be useful to provide group debriefing. Sharing experiences with others may help people to come to terms with the incident. But bear in mind that some people will not wish to talk about the incident, or may wish to do so at a later date.
- Look for symptoms of after-effects.
- Following an incident, these might include loss of appetite, flashbacks, irritability, anxiety, hyper-awareness and hyper-vigilance. The affected worker may also start taking frequent sick leave or exhibit other behaviours that may indicate post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Services such as Victim Support can provide you and the victim with further help and advice.
- You should remember that there can sometimes be delays in trauma and symptoms, which may not appear until long after the incident.
- Make sure your staff/managers know how to support their colleagues.
- Provide access to counselling services.
- If it is available, you could offer staff confidential counselling services. These may be offered either in-house or from local professionals such as Victim Support or GP services. Managers should ensure staff know that counselling is available and encouraged. Where in-house services are offered, ensure staff are fully trained and competent.
- Again, it may be useful to offer counselling and support services not just to the victim but also to colleagues who might experience some trauma from the incident.
Changes to job role or working conditions for those affected by an incident
In some cases you may need to consider changing an individual's job role or working conditions if they are particularly affected by the incident.
- Provide leave and necessary time off to recover, but research has shown that staff benefit from returning to work as soon as they are able after a traumatic incident.
- This may require the use of rehabilitation options such as taking a short break from counter duties, removing the staff member from public contact entirely, temporarily assigning them a different role or organising retraining for a new post. You could also change their location or duties if possible.
- Make sure rehabilitation is supported and suited to the worker.
- Avoid placing staff in situations that could restart symptoms, or lead to longer-term, stress-related illness.
Investigation and reporting
- Help with
the recall of the incident.
- Ask your staff and any witnesses to write down all they can remember about the incident (eg events leading up to the violence, location, injuries, events, escape route, offender description and identifying features, height, weight, eye, hair and skin colour, tattoos, clothing, and belongings/accessories such as shoes). Your report form should help to prompt you with the information that is required. You may not feel you need to record this level of detail in less serious incidents, but making a note of the key events is still helpful.
- If possible, you should keep witnesses present or take their names and addresses so they can be contacted later.
- Try to make sure people do not discuss events before the police interview as that can influence their recall of events and details.
- Staff might be expected to attend a court hearing so make sure they are aware of any further involvement required of them if they are a witness. The police should be able to advise you further on this.
- Make sure the incident is reported.
- Record the incident using your organisation's incident reporting system.
- Report the incident and injuries to police if appropriate and notify other authorities as required. If reportable under RIDDOR, incidents must be reported through the RIDDOR Incident Contact Centre.
- Inform other colleagues and staff (as appropriate) about the incident to avoid rumours and reduce anxiety.
- Conduct timely investigations.
- This might include a post-incident questionnaire and evaluation.
- Learn from experience.
- Review all relevant risk assessments and arrangements to establish whether you need to modify your existing control measures. Involve staff and be open to their suggestions. This is reassuring for staff.
- Help staff with legal proceedings/information where possible, and consider reimbursing their expenses.
- Consider any compensation claims with the victim in light of the law and their specific situation.
- Make sure staff are aware of access to legal services. Note that there can be a conflict of interest should an external body, for example the local authority, take action following an incident. Therefore, the same legal representation should not be used for both the individual and the company.
- Some trade unions and professional bodies can provide access to legal services such as USDAW's services for legal compensation support.