Threats and violence

The risk of being subjected to threats and/or violence at the workplace can arise within most sectors or occupations and is a serious work environment problem. These pages are aimed at you who wish to know how to plan and carry out preventive work in order to reduce the risks of being subjected to threats and violence at the workplace.
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Provision about threats and violence at work

Workplaces should be designed and equipped to, as far as possible, prevent the risk of threats and violence. The Swedish Work Environment Authority’s provision about violence and threats in the workplace, AFS 1993:2, applies at all workplaces.

Violence and menaces in the working environment (AFS 1993:2 Eng), provision

Avoid risky situations by working preventively 

By improving security in the venues at the workplace and introducing well thought-out procedures, many threatening and violent situations can be avoided. With good preventive work it is also possible to create a workplace where the staff can feel safe, even in operations where the risk of being subjected to threats and violence at work is palpable.

Primary risks of threats and violence

The type of threat or violence you could be affected by has to do with which occupation you have or in which sector you work, as well as your working tasks. Here we describe some different working tasks and work environments that can entail a risk of threats and violence.

Handling money or goods

Handling money or other valuable objects at work significantly increases the risk of being affected by robbery. The use of weapons has become more common in these contexts. The staff groups who are especially vulnerable are those who work within commerce and banks, security guards, bus and train staff, cashiers, and all staff who handle cash in some way.

Work with people

Occupational groups who have much direct contact with people can be in a vulnerable position, for example personnel within health care and social care, and social services. Other administrative staff within the state and municipality, for example animal protection inspectors and school and transport personnel, risk being exposed to different forms of threats and violence in their work. Aggressive actions or threats can come from customers, clients, patients and their families. This type of violence is often aimed at staff that have a service function, or during the exercise of public authority. A specific problem is when the attacker has a limited ability to govern and control their behaviour, and thus cannot be responsible for their actions. For example, persons with a certain type of brain injury, mental illness or who are under the influence of drugs.

Threats and victimisation on the Internet via email and social media is a serious phenomenon that in working life primarily affects these occupational groups and risks leading to ill health for those who are affected.

Work in public environments

Another example of threats and violence is when one or more persons ’take over’ a public venue such as a library, a school, an emergency room, a train or a bus. It could be, for an example, juvenile gangs or interest groups that use the venue as their arena. In these cases the threat level for the staff can be very subtle and the threat is seldom openly expressed.

Work within authorities and other non-profit organisations

To be a representative of an authority or organisation with which the attacker feels he or she has a problem, can result in risky situations of different kinds, such as sabotage, threats, telephone terror, stalking, or the employee’s immediately family being threatened. Potential threats and violence can be very difficult to predict and do not need to be connected with individual employees. Examples of professional roles and organisations that are particularly at risk of being affected are politicians, religious communities, the legal system, managers, receptionists, authorities, airports, department stores, refugee centres, and so on.

Other factors that influence the risk of threats and violence occurring

Besides the working tasks, specific factors at the workplace can further increase the risk of being subjected to threats and violence, for example:

  • evening or night work
  • working alone
  • lack of knowledge or experience both within the professional area and about reception and conflicts
  • stress, lack of time, too high a workload
  • areas or places of high criminality.

Responsibility for the work environment

It is important that everyone at a workplace knows who has the responsibility for work environment questions and to whom one should turn. The employer always has the primary responsibility for these questions, but to achieve the best results, the staff and safety representative need to work together with the employer to prevent ill health caused by threats and violence.

The employer’s responsibility

The primary responsibility rests on you as an employer to arrange and design the work environment to prevent risks of ill health due to threats and violence. If you are unable to work alone with the questions, you should allocate work environment tasks to the persons in the organisation that have the best possibilities of carrying out work environment management.

If you are an employer or have had this responsibility allocated to you, you should investigate the risks of threats and violence that can exist at the workplace and, as soon as possible, carry out measures to prevent the risks that emerge. It is also important that you follow up the measures and that existing regulations and procedures are known to the staff so that all know how they should react if a threatening or violent situation arises.

Employees’ responsibility

You as an employee are required to participate in work environment management and take part in the implementation of the measures necessary to achieve a good work environment. You must be vigilant and follow the procedures and instructions that exist. You must use the necessary safety devices and observe the caution necessary to avoid and prevent ill health or accidents. If you assess that a working task can bring with it the risk of being affected by threats or violence, you should also inform your employer about it.

The task of the safety representative

As a safety representative it is your task to monitor the work environment on behalf of the employees, and participate in the company’s work environment management in order to prevent ill health due to, for example, threats and violence. The task of the safety representative is to request the measures necessary from the employer in order to remove risks.

The task of the safety committee

At workplaces that employ at least fifty employees on a regular basis, there should be a safety committee. A safety committee is a working group consisting of representatives from the employer and from the employees.

The task of the safety committee is to, in an overarching manner, plan the work environment management. The workplace safety committee should deal with questions and plan measures for how, among other things, threats and violence should be prevented and about work adaptation and rehabilitation activities at the workplace.

Preventing ill health through systematic work environment management

All organisations and companies are obliged to work in an organised way to ensure a healthy work environment for their employees. Even contracted manpower and interns of different kinds are covered by this responsibility. Systematic work environment management in short means to investigate the work environment, assess the risks that exist, take measures to fix the risks and regularly follow up and revise the measures if necessary. Read more on the page about work environment management.

Work with the work environment

When it comes to the risk of threats and violence at the workplace, the employer should work together with the safety representative and the staff in the following way:

1.  Investigate the work environment to see which risks exist for threats and violence at your workplace

As an employer, you are assumed to be an expert in your activity and are, together with the safety representative and employees, normally the one who can best chart the risks for threats and violence that may exist in your organisation. Carry out a structured survey together with the affected safety representative and employees, where you go through the different types of work tasks, risk sources, and other factors that could increase the risk of threats and violence. Over and above that, you can use further investigation methods to identify risk sources more reliably. For example:

  • analysis of absence due to illness, incidents and incident reports
  • staff dialogue
  • reports from the safety representative
  • observations and information from employees
  • polls
  • checklists
  • safety rounds
  • staff meetings where planned work environment questions such as, for example threats and violence, are discussed.

2. Assess how serious the risks are

Carry out a risk analysis by discussing how great the likelihood is of your workplace being affected by those situations of threats and violence that have arisen in the investigation work. Weigh these up together with the consequences for your workplace if it happened.

3. Fix the risks

If you are an employer or have been allocated the work environment tasks, you must make sure that the ascertained risks are fixed in order to reduce the risk of the staff being affected by ill health due to threats and violence.

Below follows examples of different factors that influence the risks of threats and violence, and which can be important to investigate and possibly fix.

Physical work environment

  • The design of the premises and access to venues, accessibility, opening hours, environment outside the venues.
  • Interior design and equipment.
  • Alarms and other technical aids that work.

In those cases where an electronic alarm is required to maintain safety, the employer should have procedures to test the alarm and for the employees to practise what they should do if the alarm is given.

Threats and victimisation on the Internet

Employers who work in contact professions with, for example, the exercise of public authority and other work close to clients, risk being subjected to threats and victimisation on the Internet. With these types of threat it is also important that the workplace has well-known procedures for how this is handled, where it is also clear that you as an employer do not accept your staff being subjected to threats and victimisation, and that you report these to the police.

Psychosocial work environment

  • Do the employees have the possibility of support and can they receive help when the situation demands it?
  • Do the employees have knowledge about how they should deal with the attacker in threatening and violent situations?
  • Do the employees have a high workload and do they work under time pressure?
  • Are there possibilities for improvement in the way you have chosen to organise your work, for example division into groups, working alone, staffing, accessibility and opening hours?

There should be specific procedures for how employees should act during a crisis situation. The affected party should quickly be able to call for help and be taken care of in a good way. It is important that all at the workplace know about the procedures, and have practised how they should act. It should be easy to find important telephone numbers, for example to the police, medical care, occupational healthcare services, managers and next of kin.

Clear leadership

The attitude of management towards safety and safety prioritisations often sets the norm in the entire organisation and forms the group’s attitude towards safety as well as safety behaviour in the work. It is important that management is clear that the employees should not accept violence and threats, that safety is prioritised, and that procedures should be followed. Management must also clearly inform that employees should always think about their safety over and above performing their duties if they should end up in a situation where there is a risk of threats and violence arising.

Employees under 18 years of age

Young people under the age of 18 may not work with tasks where there is a risk of them being subjected to threats and violence.

4. Follow up measures taken

When steps are taken to fix risks, you, as an employer should regularly follow up and check these measures to assure yourself that they work as planned, or whether you need to adjust them or add other measures.

Hire occupational health services when necessary

When there is a lack of competence in the organisation for preventing risks of threats and violence in a health-promoting way, the employer should hire occupational health and safety services or corresponding external help.

If a threatening or violent situation arises

Sometimes preventive measures are not sufficient and an accident can occur. The employer is obliged to have a plan for first aid and crisis support. Create procedures for how you and the staff at the workplace should react if someone is injured or affected by threats and violence. An employee who has been subjected to threats of violence or violence should quickly receive help and support to prevent or mitigate physical and mental harm.

Support from colleagues

If someone at a workplace is affected by threats or violence, it is often the colleagues of the one affected who are expected to give first aid until the ambulance and police arrive. To quickly be at hand for an affected colleague can significantly reduce their injuries. Consider also that those who have been a witness to what has happened can require support. Also think of the following:

  • Never leave the affected colleague alone.
  • Listen. You don't need to give advice or say wise things. The most important thing is that you are there.
  • Avoid criticising or trying to find who could have done something wrong.
  • See that a family member or a friend can take care of the person affected.

Crisis support

After a threatening or violent situation it is often important for an affected colleague to have access to good mental and social care (crisis support). It can therefore be important to have dialogue with a professional dialogue contact at this stage. Not all those affected accept this offer immediately. It can thus be important that the employer comes back with an offer of crisis support some time after the event. The affected person can then often better assess their need of crisis support.

Occupational health services can, as a rule, offer crisis support. The employer can also sign an agreement with insurance companies to have access to this.

Inform the staff

It is important that the employer gathers the staff and gives concrete and factual information about what has happened and what the employer has done to support the affected party. The employer has the possibility of following up how the event has affected the employees and if, for example, further group dialogue in some form, or temporary staff reinforcements is necessary to reduce worry and fear. If one informs about what has happened in a good way, the risk of the spread of rumours, unfounded worry and fear at the workplace is reduced.

Work adaptation and rehabilitation

If the affected party is sick listed, the employer is obliged to arrange rehabilitation and work adaptation in the scope the situation demands.

Report serious accidents and incidents

Report occupational accidents and serious incidents to the Swedish Work Environment Authority.

Report an occupational injury via this form (in Swedish), opens in new window

Follow up what has happened

It is important that the employer, safety representative and affected staff follow up what has happened afterwards, the cause of what happened and why the procedures did not work. The procedures perhaps need to be revised and new measures put in place to avoid something similar happening again.

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Last updated 2016-02-16