LRD Booklets October 2007

Tackling violence at work - a guide for union reps

Introduction

Violence at work — meaning attacks on workers by members of the public, clients and service users — is a major health and safety hazard in many workplaces.

Health workers, civil servants, firefighters, teachers, postal workers, shopworkers, bus drivers, rail workers and countless others often face verbal and physical abuse in the course of doing their jobs. Although violence often affects workers who interact with members of the public, unions have also identified particular types of work — such as lone working — where workers are particularly vulnerable.

While official figures such as those provided by the British Crime Survey suggest that violence at work has fallen in recent years, sectoral surveys show that it is still a key issue affecting thousands of workers. The TUC’s Safety Reps Survey 2006 revealed that a quarter of reps cited violence as a major workplace problem.

Although health and safety and other laws offer some protection from violence for workers, the reality of under-reporting and under-enforcement mean that attacks are widespread and punishment infrequent. The government is not able to estimate accurately the number of attacks on workers and there are no official figures for the scale of attacks on lone workers.

Any improvements in tackling this issue are likely to be the result of consistent union campaigning and action. Union campaigns such as “Freedom from Fear”, “Zero Tolerance” and “Walk Safe!” have forced employers and the government to act on the issue — although action has not gone as far as unions would like.

This booklet is designed as a guide to help union reps tackle the problem of violence at work. It concentrates on attacks by members of the public on workers*, providing an overview of the problem and locating some of the causes and consequences of violence at work.

It also outlines the relevant law on violence at work, which reps can use to get their employer to act and sets out the official guidance from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and other organisations, emphasising the prevention of violence at work, including for lone workers.

In particular the booklet emphasises job design, the working environment and training as crucial areas which employers need to look at to prevent and limit violence at work.

Union campaigns and action are described, with practical tools, strategies and examples of good practice set out to help union reps organise action on the issue. The booklet contains model policies on violence at work and best practice agreements to help reps put violence on the bargaining agenda and tackle it in the workplace.

• The Labour Research Department’s booklet Tackling bullying and harassment at work deals with conflicts between people at work.