Violence and Agression

by Darren Good and Liz Hudson

Violence at work

The Health and Safety Executive defines workplace violence as

Any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.

So violence goes beyond physical attacks and includes verbal abuse or threats as well.


You may see the acronym WRV for Work Related Violence.

Many of us are fortunate to be in jobs where violence is not an issue, particularly where we deal only with colleagues. However, it is becoming increasingly common where people work in contact with customers, clients, crowds and the general public. This is especially so in situations where people are under stress due to accidents, ill-health, alcohol or drugs.

According to the Health and Safety Executive, those most at risk are people who are engaged in

  • Giving a service
  • Caring
  • Education
  • Cash transactions
  • Delivery/collection
  • Controlling
  • Representing authority.

The British Crime Survey publishes figures of reported workplace violence. They peaked in 1995 and then fell to 655,000 incidents in 2005, about half the 1995 figure. Programmes made available to employers by the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission, and the training of staff in at-risk jobs are likely to have contributed to this fall. Despite this, complacency is unwarranted and the figures are edging up again.

There are also many observers who consider the actual rate to be considerably higher than the official figures, as much violence at work goes unreported, especially ‘minor’ incidents.

Physical attacks are obviously dangerous, but serious or persistent verbal abuse can be a significant problem too, as it can cause damage to employees’ health through anxiety and stress. For their employers, this can represent a real financial cost – through low staff morale and high staff turnover. This in turn can affect the confidence of a business and its profitability. Further costs may arise from expensive insurance premiums and compensation payments.

For employees, violence can cause pain, distress and even disability or death.