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Working with potentially violent people

Frequently when running conflict management training courses we hear vociferous complaints from staff who feel vulnerable because they have to visit potentially dangerous people; often with little or no advanced information about the people they are visiting. One gets the impression that organisations would never expose their staff to common health and safety risks but often have a blind spot when expecting staff to visit people who are in known high risk groups.

The alleged reasons for this are:

It’s ‘part of the job’
It’s against the Data Protection Act to hold information on potentially dangerous people
There is confusion about who is responsible, if working in a multi-agency environment
The key legislation relevant to this area is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. It states that ’employers have a legal duty to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees’. Employers may feel the words ‘reasonably practicable’ provides them with a get out clause. However, the courts take a dim view of employers who knew the risks but ignored them.

As with all Health and Safety at work the starting point for an employer is to record, assess and keep a record of the risks inherent in the job. In fact, this is a legal requirement for all employers who have more than 5 employees. Depending on the risks identified some more localised risk assessments may be required (i.e. on a case by case basis). However, this is only possible if management and staff are aware of the background and risks associated with the people they are visiting. This is where the Data Protection Act often gets cited in the wrongly held assumption that employers are unable to hold information about potentially dangerous people. Whilst care must be taken with the information held, employers do have a duty of care to set up a coherent system to inform staff if they are visiting high risk individuals. The Information Commissioner’s Office have produced guidance on this topic.

We encounter a great many staff finding difficulty with this topic when working in multi-agency environments, such as staff from a building company who are contracted to a housing association. Which organisation is responsible for supplying information on potentially violent tenants? While the ultimate responsibility to keep staff safe rests with their employer (the building company) it is the housing association that has access to the tenant information. In this case the agency must insist on the information being made available from the housing association, even if this might rock the boat in these difficult economic times.

Employers also need to proactively manage risks where risks are known. Large payouts have been made where employees have been injured by people who had shown high risk behaviour yet the situation had not been properly managed. Sharon Lewis, a Nottingham teacher, received 280,000 for a violent attack by a pupil. The pupil had previously attacked other members of staff.

Whilst we all aim to provide the customer with an excellent service, let’s not provide that service at the expense of staff safety. When staff feel more safe and secure, they are more motivated to provide a better service – everyone wins!

The Conflict Training Company provides a number of on-site conflict management training courses, including a Managing Violence and Aggression course, to companies across the UK. Please contact us to find out how we can tailor any course to your exact requirements.



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