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Violence at Work

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What Is Workplace Violence?

The Government Agency responsible for health and safety is the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).  The HSE says that work-related violence is;

“Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This can include verbal abuse or threats as well as physical attacks. These pages explain what HSE is doing to address the issue of work-related violence and provide access to a range of information.”

Your employer has a duty under Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to identify the nature and the extent of any risks and to devise measures which provide a safe workplace and a safe system of work.

If you have been exposed to an unnecessary and foreseeable risk of injury or your employer did not protect you properly, which led to an assault or attack, then you may be able to hold your employer responsible and make a claim for compensation. [see How to win your personal injury claim at work]

What You Should Do After an Assault at Work

  • Get to a private area where you can sit with a friend, or leave the workplace and go home.
  • Take pictures of the injury and the place where it happened.
  • Make a note of witnesses.
  • You should go to the GP or attend Accident and Emergency with someone and get a doctor’s report, of your injuries.
  • If the assault happens away from your work premises, you should inform your employer as soon as possible.
  • Where the injury is not obviously superficial, you should notify the local office of the Department of Work and Pensions. This could be important if a claim for disablement benefit becomes appropriate. Since the lasting consequences of an injury may only become evident later, it is best to report all injuries, no matter how minor.
  • Report the incident to the police. This is important if you want to claim compensation with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority.

Cases About Workplace Violence

In Cook v Bradford Community Health NHS Trust [2002] Ms Cook was a healthcare assistant who was awarded compensation after being assaulted by a patient. The Court of Appeal said that Bradford Community Health NHS Trust had a duty not to place Ms. Cook unnecessarily in a position where there is a risk of foreseeable danger.

Ms Cook worked in the seclusion suite at a psychiatric hospital. She worked there for about 6 months. The suite consisted of rooms with doors leading onto a single corridor. Access to the corridor was through a locked door. One end of the corridor was a toilet with washing facilities. The patient suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia and was unstable, unpredictable and dangerous, frequently being violent. Two Healthcare Assistants were required to be with the patient at all times.

The patient had been placed in “open seclusion” in the suite. In June 1998, he punched another patient in the face, which was the reason he was taken to the seclusion suite. Ms Cook came on duty and went to see if the two Healthcare Assistants watching the Patient needed refreshments. She was told it was safe to enter by the Healthcare Assistants. She was taking cups of coffee to her colleagues when the patient asked to go to the toilet. While she was in the suite the door was opened allowing him to get out. He punched Ms Cook hard in the face, and as a result she suffered severe psychiatric injuries.

The Court of Appeal said the Bradford Community Health NHS Trust had a duty not to place Ms. Cook unnecessarily in a position where there is a risk of foreseeable danger. The risk could have been avoided by not having the patient out of his room.

In Keys v ShoeFayre Ltd [1978],  Ms. Keys was asked to take money to the bank, but was worried about being mugged as there had been a number of muggings in the area. She refused to go to the bank and was sacked. The Court said that the employer had failed in its obligation of trust and support. Ms. Keys concerns should have been taken seriously and ShoeFayre Ltd should have found an alternative means of getting the money to the bank. Shoe Fayre Ltd was found to be in breach of contract to Ms Keys.

In the Scottish case of Collins v First Quench Retailing Ltd [2003], Ms Jacqueline Collins was awarded £179,000 from her employers when the off-license she managed was robbed. Ms Collins had been the manager of Victoria Wine, run by First Quench Retailing, for about ten years. When Mrs Collins started in the shop she had been concerned about security and raised this with management. Since 1977 there had been 13 reported crimes at the shop, including five thefts, one minor assault, one serious assault and one assault with intent to rob. There were two armed robberies in 1994 and four in 1996. There was an incident in November 1997 when one employee resigned after being threatened by a violent customer.

On 17 June, 1998, Ms Collins, 37, had been working alone in an off licence in Edinburgh when the doors had burst open and two masked men charged towards her. One vaulted the counter sending her crashing. “He had a knife at my throat and picked me up by the hair. He shouted not to press the panic alarm, but I managed to. I thought I was going to die…I thought the knife was going to go in, but at least he would be caught.”

The men fled with about £2,900. One of the men was subsequently arrested and punished with a seven-year jail sentence. Ms Collins developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the incident.

Mrs Collins sued on the basis that her employers were at fault for failing to provide her with adequate protection from such an attack. Under Regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, employers are required to carry out risk assessments of hazards in the workplace. Ms Collins’ case was based on her employer’s failure to introduce twin precautions of security screens and/or double manning. Ms Collins told the court she had repeatedly asked her employers for better security  measures. “I asked for security measures to be put in place, …….but they wouldn’t do anything.”

Just weeks before she was attacked, a colleague had been injured after a man came into the shop threatening her with a gun: “After that, I was really persistent but still they wouldn’t do anything.” Her case was that there should have been security screens and/or double staffing.

First Quench argued that the shop was not located in a “high risk” area and the number of incidents there was not “significantly higher” than other similar outlets in Edinburgh. argued that the shop had panic buttons and closed circuit television, which were sufficient deterrents; the branch was not located in a “high risk” area and the number of incidents there was not “significantly higher” than other similar outlets in Edinburgh; other shops suffered more serious incidents.
The Court said that shop owners had a duty to take reasonable care to protect staff. He said the Slateford Road branch had a history of being a target for raids, and that police had recommended employees should not work alone. He felt that the advice was not followed because of company policy reasons, and that policy appears to have been driven by economics rather than a consideration of the safety of staff.
The damages awarded to Ms Collins included £24,000 for her pain and suffering, £44,000 for past loss of earnings and £71,000 for future loss of earnings. The judge believed it would take five years for her to become fit enough, undergo retraining and obtain a job.

The Law

Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) 1974
Places a legal duty on employers to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of employees. Employers have an obligation to ensure that any risk of work-related violence is eliminated or controlled. Where there are five or more employees there must be a written health and safety policy statement, setting out how health and safety is managed in the organisation.

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (MHSWR) 1999
The MHSWR requires employers to consider the health and safety risks to employees and to carry out a risk assessment to protect employees from exposure to reasonably foreseeable risks. These risks include work-related violence.

The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) 1995
Under RIDDOR, employers must make a report to the Incident Contact Centre in the event of an accident to an employee resulting in death, major injury or absence from work for three or more days. RIDDOR does not cover threats and verbal abuse.

Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations 1977
Safety Representatives nominated by recognised trade unions represent all staff on all matters of health and safety and are an effective way of reducing the likelihood of accidents and ill health. Under these Regulations, employers are legally required to consult with any nominated representatives in their workplaces. Safety representatives can take up any issues of concern and they have legal rights to:

  • raise health and safety complaints with management;
  • investigate hazards and complaints;
  • inspect workplaces;
  • investigate accidents/incidents;
  • obtain information and facilities from employers/inspectors to help them carry out the safety representative role;
  • insist on safety committees

Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996
Employers must inform and consult with employees on all matters relating to their health and safety.

The Licensing Act 2003 -England and Wales
The Act applies to premises licensed for the sale of alcohol, the provision of regulated entertainment or the provision of late night refreshment. The Act promotes four objectives;

  • the prevention of crime and disorder;
  • public safety;
  • prevention of public nuisance;
  • Protection of children from harm.

Self Defence

If you are in a placed in the position of having no choice but to defend yourself or to take action to defend others, then as set out in the old case of Palmer v R [1971], “It is both good law and good sense that a man who is attacked may defend himself. It is both good law and good sense that he may do, but only do, what is reasonably necessary.”

Section 3 Criminal Law Act 1967 says “A person may use such force as is reasonable in the circumstances in the prevention of crime, or in effecting or assisting in the lawful arrest of offenders or suspected offenders or of persons unlawfully at large.”

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) is a government-funded scheme administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). CICA makes financial awards to compensate people injured in England, Wales and Scotland as a result of violent crime. The injury can be physical, mental or both.

There are three possible types of CICA award:

  • a tariff award, based on the type of injury you have suffered
  • compensation for past and future loss of earnings
  • special expenses compensation

Making an Application to Cica

Your application will only be considered if it is received on the prescribed CICA form within two years of the incident causing injury. This time limit will be extended only in very limited circumstances.

There is a general rule that any incident for which a claim is being made should be reported to the police straight away. If you don’t do you’re your application may be rejected.

The Five Rules of Claiming Cica Compensation:

  • Report the matter immediately to the Police, your employer and the Local Authority (if applicable) and keep details of the report. If the police are involved make sure you have the name and number of the police officer, the incident report number and the address of the police station.
  • Your application MUST be lodged in time. There is a 2 year time limit from the date of the criminal assault.
  • Keep your CICA reference safe and quote it any correspondence to CICA.
  • If your CICA application is rejected there are time limits for the Review and Appeal. You MUST do this within 90 days from the decision that you disagree with.
  • Keep copies of all your paperwork.

Last Updated: [11/09/2021]