Violence at work

People who deal directly with the public may face aggressive or violent behaviour. 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'.

Carry out a violence at work assessment

Violence is a significant problem in a number of commercial businesses, such as nightclubs, retail outlets, and betting shops. It is not just a problem confined to door supervisors and security guards – it can affect anyone whilst they are at work.

Carrying out a risk assessment determines whether or not there is a risk of violence in your premises.

Step 1: Identify the hazards

A hazard is something that can cause harm – in this case violence and aggression. Gather this information by:

  • asking your staff and safety representatives about their experiences and concerns
  • looking at your accident and ill-health records
  • reading the information on the HSE website

Causes of violence in pubs and clubs include disagreements between customers, customers who are drunk or who have used illegal drugs. In shops these can include unpredictable behaviour of shoplifters and drug users, verbal abuse (this is more common than physical violence).

Step 2: Who might be harmed and how?

Work out whether and how violence, or the fear of violence, could affect workers or other people in your workplace. Think about whether there are any special groups of workers who have different or additional risks, for example lone workers or trainees.

In pubs or clubs, entrances can be ‘hot spots’ for violence. Clubs are sometimes more at risk because customers have been drinking for longer by the time they get there. People working in pubs and clubs can experience frequent verbal abuse, physical assaults, including the use of weapons, and racial discrimination.

People working in retail premises are more at risk at opening and closing times, or when dealing with complaints or returned items. The types of violence they experience can include frequent verbal abuse and physical assaults, including use of weapons.

Step 3: Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions

Consider what you are already doing, and whether your control measures are working properly and if there is anything else you need to do. Ask your staff for their ideas and feedback.

Consider the risks, and whether there are any steps you can take to prevent incidents of violence. For example:

  • do you handle large amounts of cash?
  • do staff have face-to-face contact with customers?
  • is your premises open in the evening or late at night?
  • do you deal with customer complaints or disputes?
  • do you have lone workers or small numbers of staff?
  • do you sell or guard high-value goods, including medicines, expensive merchandise or alcohol or tobacco?
  • do you sell age-restricted goods, and have to refuse to serve customers who are under age or without ID?
  • are your workers under pressure because of exceptional workloads, inadequate stock or staff shortages? (this may slow employee performance and can lead to delays, queues and customer impatience and hostility)
  • are your premises in a high-crime area? (businesses with previous experience of robbery, assaults or threats are more at risk of repeat incidents)

Step 4: Record your findings and implement them

When you have decided what you need to do to keep your staff safe, work out how you will put these actions in place. Who will be responsible for taking the actions and when? How will you share this information with staff?

If you employ five or more people, you will need to keep a record of your main findings. Your health and safety inspector may ask to see your risk assessment in order to review the control measures you have put in place.

Step 5: Review your risk assessment and update if necessary

You should review your risk assessment regularly in case any of the risks have changed, or if there has been an incident. You also need to review the effectiveness of any control measures in place by asking staff and monitoring incidents. This will ensure the measures are being used properly and are effective.

Violence Policy

If your company is significantly affected by violence, then you should have a written violence policy which should form part of your overall health and safety policy arrangements.

This should include the following aspects:

  • a definition of violence, including abuse and threatening behaviour
  • a proper reporting system should be in place and staff should be encouraged to report matters
  • identify the various ways in which violence may occur at the premises
  • identify those most at risk
  • consultation with employees, and safety representatives
  • outline managerial and employee responsibilities under the policy
  • carry out risk assessments
  • employee training to cover all aspects of violence (how to recognise it, how to diffuse it etc), and understanding the policy itself
  • list both physical and organisational arrangements to minimise the chance of violence, and for dealing with violence if it occurs
  • provision of arrangements with employees of contract staff or self-employed staff working on the premises; contractor vetting and monitoring arrangements
  • monitoring all organisational and physical precautions to ensure that they are effective
  • access and commitment to support and counselling, or treatment, without loss of pay or benefits for victims of violence
  • review mechanisms in place to assess the success of all parts of the policy

Please note that Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) does not cover threats and verbal abuse, or absence from work due to emotional trauma.


Employers must comply with the Health and safety at Work Act 1974, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases, and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013.

Last updated: 29 November 2019