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How to protect the safety of your staff in the workplace

by Sasa Jankovic

In the UK, more than 3 million working days are lost every year due toviolent incidents at work. Sasa Jankovic looks at ways to keep staffsafe

Business insight | Getting the best from your workforce

 

One in five people are attacked or abused at work eachyear, according to the Trades Union Congress, the national trade unioncentre in the UK. As well as disrupting many lives, this causes more than3 million lost working days each year.

The Health and Safety Executive defines violence as any incident in whichan employee is “abused, threatened or assaulted by a member of thepublic in circumstances arising out of the course of his or her employment”.

Victims may suffer physical injuries as well as psychological trauma andcan need time off to recover, proving costly to their employer. Then thereis the cost to the NHS (estimated by the National Audit Office at £173mper year) and the benefits system.

Figures from the Pharmacists’ Defence Association show that workplaceviolence and the fear of it are a growing concern, with staff from onein every 15 pharmacies surveyed suffering violence, and half of all respondentsrecalling at least two incidents where they suffered violence or the threatof violence or abuse.

Who is at risk?

Anyone whose job brings them into contact with the publiccan be at risk of violence, and those in frontline health professionssuch as pharmacyare likely to be more vulnerable.

Employers and staff have to work together to reduce the risk of violence,which often occurs due to a combination of factors such as working unsocialhours, working alone, handling money, or coping with distressed or angrycustomers.

Employers’ responsibilities

Making the workplace safer improves morale and reducesstaff turnover and absenteeism. In addition, employers have a dutyof care under theHealth and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health andSafety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure a safe workplace for all staff,which includes assessing (see Panel below) and preventing violence.

John Murphy, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association, clarifies: “Whilstit is the collective responsibility of all in [the] pharmacy to do whateverthey can to ensure that the working environment is as safe as possible,it is primarily the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety oftheir staff.”

Safety checklist

• Are staff trained in good customer service and conflictresolution?

• Are staff confident? (an atmosphere of fear can increasethe likelihood of violence)

• Are staff aware of customers with a history of violence?

• Are security measures up to date? (eg, video cameras or alarmsystems, coded security locks on the doors, wider counters)

• Can lone worker situations be avoided?

• Do staff know how to report violence?

Things to consider when undertakinga risk assessment

By law all employers must carry out a workplacerisk assessment. Many violent incidents can be predicted, anda risk assessmenthelps to identify them. Conflict management training consultantsMaybo advise considering the following three stages:

Awareness Are staff aware of situations they might face and customersthey may encounter?

Prevention What actions can be taken to prevent conflict arisingor to reduce the frequency and impact of incidents? How canstaff prevent conflict escalating into violence? (This typicallyinvolves the use of interpersonal skills, such as conflict resolutiontraining.)

Disengagement Do staff know how to disengage themselves fromconflict and how to report and record any events?

Training tips

A new report from the NHS Security Management Servicereveals that training designed to prevent violence and abuse makes NHSstaff feel safer atwork.

Conflict resolution training gives staff the skills to spot the signsof violence before it happens. Staff also learn how to defuse, preventand manage an incident without the use of physical restraint.

Nine out of ten staff trained by the NHS Security Management Service inconflict resolution said they can now manage verbally abusive patients,compared with six out of ten before the training. The survey also revealedthat 67 per cent of trained staff felt safe from violence at work, comparedwith 47 per cent before the training.

Richard Hampton, Head of the NHS Security Management Service, says: “Reducingthe fear of violence can be just as important as reducing violence itself.With the introduction of the Local Security Management Specialist (LSMS)to health bodies we hope to see even more staff working without fear ofviolence or abuse.”

Lone working

PTracK device

The PTracK device activates a visual alarm at a control centre

With the Health and Safety Executive reporting 1.3 millionattacks on lone workers in the UK every year, avoiding lone workingis one of themost simple safety steps to take.

If staff have to work alone, personal alarms and panic buttons can helpensure their safety.

One such device is the new PTrackdevice. This is a mobile phone-sized device which operates via aone-button panic alert to activate a visual alarm at a control centre,giving fulldetailsof user and location. At the same time, the device sends a panic alerttext to designated mobile phone numbers.

Supplied with a belt clip anda power adapter, PTrack units can be leased and managed for around £1per day.

Staff responsibilities

Employees also have responsibility for their own wellbeingand that of their colleagues. The aim in any difficult situation shouldalways beto diffuse, rather than exacerbate, an incident, but the law doesallow people to take any reasonable action to defend ourselves and ourpropertyusing reasonable force.

In addition, it is vital that staff are aware of reporting and recordingprocedures. The Physical Assault Reporting System (PARS) is a systemdesigned to be used by all primary care trust staff and contractorsto report violentincidents to the NHS SMS so that they can be recorded and monitored(although this is an England-only service).

The form can be downloaded (MicrosoftWord document) and should be returned to your LSMS.In addition, allphysical violencemust be reported to the police.

Further information

Conflict management training and advice:
NHS Counter Fraud and SecurityManagement Service training

Maybo (conflict managementspecialists)

Physical Assault Reporting System (PARS):
Theform can be downloaded (MicrosoftWord document)

Safe working practices and personal safety:
www.suzylamplugh.org

Victim support
www.victimsupport.org.uk

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