Ask an adviser: violence at work

Everyone has the right to be safe at work no matter what type of service or setting they're employed in. Members should follow these steps if they're assaulted at work

Report it to the police

All assaults and threatening behaviour should be reported to the police as soon as possible after the event, even if the person’s behaviour may be due to a health condition or a result of treatment.

Managers should never discourage staff from reporting incidents to the police. If members need advice, they can call RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100.

Identify the attacker

It’s important to co-operate with the police. Members can disclose identity information for the attacker, such as name and address.

While each case is different, the NMC code states that it’s acceptable to breach confidentiality if doing so can be justified as being in the public interest. For example, protecting staff, patients or the public from further assaults, or if it’s needed to investigate or prosecute individuals who have assaulted staff. 

If a member is worried about confidentiality or what details can be given, they should refer to their local policy or seek advice from their manager. 

Write down what happened

If the police don’t take a statement at the time, they may return later to take one. It’s helpful to have a record of what happened.

Members should write down the following as soon as possible:

  • their details
  • where they were at the time of the incident
  • what they were doing
  • a description of the person who carried out the assault
  • anything relevant that happened in the lead up to the incident including threats or abusive language
  • the details of what happened during the incident and immediately afterwards
  • the details of any injuries suffered.

It’s useful to include a sketch or map of the area where the incident took place and to take a photo of any injuries. 

Members don’t have to give an official statement to the police but if they don’t, it’s unlikely that the incident will go to court.

Report it at work

Members should read relevant policies on violence in the workplace to check for any processes they need to follow, and report the incident to their manager, and in their local incident reporting system as soon as they’re able to.

It’s a good idea for members to let their local safety rep know too. Safety reps can look into the incident and see what measures the employer is taking to prevent further incidents. 

Seek support

Assaults and threatening behaviour can have a psychological impact and staff or witnesses can be affected differently, with it sometimes taking time before a person feels the impact. Members may want to seek emotional support.

Some organisations offer staff a debrief following an incident and access to emotional support services. All members can also contact the RCN’s counselling service by calling RCN Direct.

What should employers do?

Employers should support staff if they need time off work due to physical injuries or the psychological impact of such injuries. Some members may need a supported or phased return to work. 

Employers should also carry out an assessment of the risks to health and safety and put protective measures in place to help prevent further incidents.

They should also provide information and training to employees. For example, on what measures need to be taken if nursing staff are caring for someone who has previously been violent towards staff.

What if the case goes to court?

Before a decision about whether to investigate or prosecute an attacker can be made, the police need to know that the individual’s condition didn’t cause them to behave in this way. This information should be provided by the most senior clinician present.

For more information about what happens if a case goes to court visit one of the below:

More information

For more information about what to do if you’re assaulted at work, read our advice guide.

If you're an RCN rep supporting a member who’s been assaulted at work and you need support, call RCN Direct for advice or contact your local RCN office.

If you’ve suffered an injury as a result of an assault at work, in some circumstances, you may be entitled to compensation, or if you work in the NHS and are off sick, NHS injury allowance. For more information about making a claim call RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100. You may be put through to RCN Law if you have a personal injury case. Read our advice on personal injury and accidents at work.

Please note, if assaults aren’t reported to the police as soon as possible then compensation claims could be refused.

Did you know?

In 2017 the RCN UK Safety Reps Committee led a Congress debate on assaults and violence in the workplace. It was decided that the RCN would lobby for tougher criminal sanctions for people who assault nursing staff.

Last year, thanks to tireless campaigning from RCN members, the law in England and Wales was strengthened. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 means it is a specific new offence to assault emergency workers and health care staff who provide NHS funded care, including those working in the independent sector providing NHS services. 

The new law means harsher punishments for people who carry out attacks on nursing staff with the maximum sentence for a new offence of assault or battery doubling from six months to 12 months in prison. Judges must also consider tougher sentences for a range of other offences, including grievous bodily harm.

Read our RCN Bulletin feature From Congress to Constitution.

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