There are a great many common contributory factors to the violent assaults carried out by customers, clients and patients and there are also a large number of variables in the circumstances of each verbal or physical incident. This means that although an organisation can faultlessly discharge its legal duty to protect its employees from exposure to reasonably foreseeable violence at work, this protection can never be 100%. In organisations where the management of violence is inadequate or flawed, the employees’ exposure to violence from customers, clients and patients can be potentially much higher than average.
Factors contributing to an increased possibility of customer on medical or other staff violence and which are outside of an organisation’s control can include:
• Potential assailant being under the influence of alcohol ( a factor in 35% of assaults and 30% of violent threats)
• Potential assailant being under the influence of drugs (a factor in 25% of assaults and 19% of violent threats)
• Potential assailant’s mood adversely affected by negative events preceding the encounter during which they assaulted or threatened an employee – the ‘having a bad day’ factor.
Factors which could lead instances of customer on staff violence and over which an organisation should have control but which they might fail to have can include:
• Inadequate staff training – this can prevent staff from being able to spot the early signs of aggression and then be able to defuse it or avoid the consequences. Poor training might also result in staff not being able to use the systems put in place to protect them such as counter barriers, ‘panic’ buttons or even just avoiding lone working.
• An inappropriate staff ‘attitude’ towards customers, clients or patients can also lead to misunderstandings and aggression with people feeling, mistakenly or not that they are being ignored or disrespected. Additionally, with the mainly beneficial disappearance of the historical ‘lay-persons’ deference to highly trained professionals, a customer’s hair-trigger indignation at being ‘patronised’ is increasingly easy for helpful employees to unwittingly provoke. ‘You are patronising me’ can of course also be the catch-all accusation made by certain insecure or ignorant people whose default personality position is to constantly confuse being given expert advice or useful information with being treated like fools. Even well-trained and sensitive employees can provoke this irrational accusation and have to remember, even whilst apologising, that ‘it is them not me’.
• Job processes – failing to keep waiting clients/patients updated with waiting times, holding or using large amounts of cash, failing to make prior checks on clients and patients to be met outside of the workplace, attending out of workplace meetings with suspected aggressors without an accompanying colleague.
• Environment – having a workplace layout that suggests ‘employees under siege’, poor seating, poor lighting, difficult access, no security cameras, no security locks on doors, counters without features limiting physical access across them.
At the end of the day, it has to be stressed that the risk of physical or verbal violence to any worker in the UK is very low. Based on the British Crime Survey it is estimated that only 1.5% of the working population become victims each year – and only a small number of them make a claim for injury compensation.