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How to deal with abuse at work

As a result of new government guidance, more people who have been violent or abusive towards National Health Service workers are being prosecuted by NHS trusts. In addition, in March 2003, a nationwide campaign was launched to raise awareness in doctors’ surgeries about the need for safety at work. Although pharmacies were not specifically highlighted in the campaign, the key message about safety in the workplace is still relevant. Pharmacy staff, like many other health sector workers, are at risk of threats and assaults and need to know how to deal with violent situations. The most common incidents in which staff are assaulted are robberies. Some incidents may be related to the fact that pharmacies hold Controlled Drugs. Other risk factors include late-night opening or being located in a high crime area.

The Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence is “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.” Front line staff in the pharmacy often have to deal with rudeness and threats, making work unpleasant and upsetting. For example, a customer who is irritable and has to wait in a queue could take out his or her anger on staff. In the worst cases, physical violence is involved. However, violence is not limited to the behaviour of patients or customers. Workplace violence can also involve the behaviour of other employees.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers have a duty to “ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.” In fulfilling these legal obligations, employers also need to consider safety in terms of managing the risk of conflict. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to protect employees from reasonably foreseeable violence. This can be achieved by assessing risks to employees through effective planning, organisation, control and monitoring and review.

Violence should be dealt with in two ways: steps must be taken to prevent violence and, if violence does occur, support must be given to minimise any harm that has been done.

Identifying problems

The first step in addressing conflict in the workplace is to find out whether or not there is a problem. Regular “threat assessments” should be conducted to establish who might be harmed and the level of risk that they face. Staff in regular contact with the public (eg, pharmacy assistants) are probably most at risk. However, most pharmacy staff will have some contact with the public and need to be aware of how best to deal with conflict. Staff should be consulted either formally (eg, using questionnaires) or informally (eg, through discussions) and asked if they ever feel frightened or threatened at work and why. At the end of any consultation, it is important to share the outcomes with staff.

The pharmacy should have a system in place to record all incidents of violence and staff should be encouraged to report all violent incidents in order for an accurate risk assessment to be completed. Sometimes, staff are reluctant to report incidents because they feel it will reflect badly on them. They should however be made aware that abuse and threats from members of the public are unacceptable and are not part of their job. Staff need to be reassured that if incidents are reported, action will be taken to ensure their safety. In fact, just as the employer has a duty to go to reasonable lengths to protect staff, members of staff also have a duty to to take reasonable care and act responsibly towards their own personal health and safety, for example, by reporting violent incidents.

Download the attached PDF to read the full article.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10985918

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