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PROBLEM OF DEFINING WORKPLACE VIOLENCE: HSE

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Despite an increased awareness of the risk of work-related violence, the actual scale of the problem is hard to det...
Despite an increased awareness of the risk of work-related violence, the actual scale of the problem is hard to determine, according to new research by The Tavistock Institute and published today by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

While extreme examples of violence hit the headlines, many cases of verbal abuse, threatening behaviour and even physical assault faced by workers in a wide range of jobs, from large scale health care services, social services and education, to the corner shop or local garage, go unreported because of individual responses to the problem.

Elizabeth Gyngell of HSE's health directorate and chair of the Inter-departmental Committee on Violence to Staff (ICVS), said: 'Although there is a lot of information available, there is no agreed definition of 'work-related' violence. Most people would agree that violence includes physical assaults but not everyone recognises the damage and harm that can be caused by verbal abuse or threatening behaviour, particularly if employees are subjected to it repeatedly over a prolonged period.

'A clear baseline is difficult to establish and without it the true scale of violence at work can only be guessed at. However HSE welcomes this report as it improves our understanding of this complex and difficult issue.'

The research details the kinds of situations that can result in increased aggression or violence and examines an organisational approach rather than one that responds to individual incidents. Many incidents of work-related violence result from a dissatisfaction with either the goods or service being provided - with shop workers being one of the groups most at risk.

The research recommends encouraging businesses to manage violence at an organisational level rather than dealing with individual incidents when they occur. But small and medium sized companies and organisations can help each other too by working together in local groups to deal with localised problems.

Dr Hilary Standing of the Tavistock Institute added:

'We believe that an inter-agency approach will be more effective in some circumstances than the current occupation led approach. Our

research suggests that this will encourage shared experience and promote good practice in a practical way.'

Copies of 'Review of workplace-related violence,' Contract Research Report 143, prepared by the Tavistock Institute, price£20, are available from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk, CO10 6FS, tel: 01787-881165 or fax: 01787-313995.

NOTE

HSE published generic [guidance 'Violence at Work: A Guide for Employers,' IND(G)69L(Rev)] on how to tackle work-related violence in September 1996 and some 50,000 copies have been distributed so far.

HSE also offers specific guidance for the health services [ISBN 0 11 883917 9] and education sectors [ISBN 0 11 885558 1]; the retail industry [HS (G)133]; and for banks and building societies [HS (G)100]; which are all sectors which attract particularly violent incidents. (All available from HSE Books address above).

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