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Violence and aggression overview

Your duty to protect employees, how to identify risks and precautions you can take

As an employer, you have a duty to manage the risks related to violence and aggression at work.

Use the links below to find information and resources to help you assess the risks and manage violence and aggression at work. You will also find information on your legal duties as an employer.

This information is current, but it is important to consider issues in your workplace that are specific to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and make suitable arrangements to keep your staff safe. For more information and advice on working safely, read our COVID-19 guidance

  1. Common types of violence and aggression
  2. Violence and aggression precautions
  3. Violence and aggression legislation

1. Common types of violence and aggression

Violence and aggression includes

  • threats
  • physical attacks
  • antisocial behaviour
  • a lack of respect for others
  • verbal and emotional abuse
  • the intention to injure or harm.

This can be inflicted on an individual by another individual or group. It could also include damage to property.

It could happen between colleagues or by superiors or members of the public, such as

  • pupils
  • clients
  • patients.

It can also include domestic situations outside of work that have an impact on the workplace.

Types of violence

These behaviours can include

  • spitting
  • robbery
  • rude gestures
  • physical or sexual assault
  • written abuse, including use of social media, email and the internet
  • malicious damage to the property of staff, customer or the business.

It can also include behaviours such as

  • stalking
  • intimidation and bullying
  • verbal abuse, in person or over the telephone
  • harassment, including sexual and racial abuse
  • threatening behaviour, for example 'squaring up' without physical contact.

Anybody could be at risk, especially if they work with the public. However people that are most at risk are those that work in

  • care
  • retail
  • education
  • positions of authority
  • deliveries and collections.

Working practices can increase this risk. For example

  • working alone
  • working after normal hours
  • working in the community
  • handling valuables or medication.

Classes of violence or aggression

Criminal intent

The person involved has no legitimate relationship to the business or its employees. They are usually committing a crime that involves violence. These crimes can include

  • robbery
  • terrorism
  • shoplifting
  • trespassing.

Customer or service user, their family, friends or carers

The person involved has a legitimate relationship with the business. They become violent or abusive while being served by the business. This includes

  • patients
  • students
  • inmates
  • customers
  • service users.

It also includes any other group for which the business provides services. A large portion of customer or service user incidents occur in the healthcare industry.

Worker on worker

The person involved is an employee or past employee of the business who attacks or threatens other employees or past employees in the workplace.

Personal relationship

The person involved usually does not have a relationship with the business. However they have a personal relationship with the intended victim. This includes victims of domestic violence being assaulted or threatened while at work.

Carry out a risk assessment

You have a duty to manage the risk to the safety and health of your employees and others. To be able to achieve this you need to complete a risk assessment, to decide on methods to reduce the likelihood of violence and aggression in the workplace.

Find out how to carry out a risk assessment

Find out more

Our publications on managing violence and aggression have tools and strategies which you can use in your organisation. There is also guidance specific to managing workplace violence in a retail setting.

Go to our managing violence and aggression  publications​​