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In this article we look at employers’ legal obligations towards employees and offer guidance on how to protect them from violence in the workplace

Violence at work

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) defines violence at work as “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work”. Examples of this could be a nurse being verbally abused and threatened by a patient or a carer being bitten by a person with learning disabilities during the normal care of that person. These issues can place employees at risk as there is a high level of under-reporting violent and aggressive incidents within the health sector. This is due to the perception that  it can sometimes be part of the job.

Employers’ duties towards employees

Section 2 of The Health and Safety at Work Act places a general duty on employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable the health safety, and welfare of employees. Every business should have a policy for managing health and safety.

Regulation 3 of The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations also imposes duties to assess the heath and safety risks to workers - including the risk of work-related violence. There are also general duties to appoint competent people, set up emergency procedures, provide information and training to workers and to also work together with employers sharing the same workplace.

HSE prosecution

On 25 April 2023 Serco Limited were fined £2.25 million for health and safety failings arising from the death of a custody officer. Ms Barwell was kicked twice during the restraint of a prisoner in custody and she died from brain injuries caused by the second blow. The HSE investigation found that Serco had failed to properly analyse risk intelligence on prisoners and communicate risks and safety precautions to staff. In addition, failings were identified in relation to Serco’s procedures, staff training, the provision of readily accessible personal protective equipment and ensuring adequate training was provided. Serco was also criticised for not managing staff working hours and staffing levels which resulted in routine violations of procedures by staff in order to ‘get the job done’.


The British Crime Survey found that people working for smaller businesses are more likely to be threatened or assaulted. Also, 150 lone workers are physically or verbally attacked every day (based on the number of reported cases). Those working directly with members of the public, particularly in security roles were found to be at a higher risk of suffering violence whilst at work.

In April 2023, the HSE provided updated guidance for owners of small and medium sized businesses on how employers can protect their staff from violence in the workplace. In summary, this includes information on:

  • assessing the risks of violence in the workplace
  • developing a comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy
  • providing training to identify the early signs of aggression and manage incidents
  • implementing security measures (such as CCTV, panic alarms, glass screens, adequate lighting)
  • offering support to employees following an incident
  • encouraging the reporting of any work-related violence.


Employers in England have a legal obligation to prioritise the safety and well-being of their employees by actively preventing and addressing workplace violence. By conducting risk assessments, implementing policies and procedures, providing training, and encouraging a supportive environment, employers can create a workplace that is free from violence and ensure the safety of their employees.

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