Dealing with violence and aggression

15 June, 2012
John Haswell

With a busy summer of sport ahead and the associated drinking within pubs, staff need to be aware and properly trained in issues relating to violence and aggression in the workplace.

We consider violence or aggression to be characterised by any behaviour on the part of another deliberately intended to harm or damage staff, customers or property either physically or psychologically (through abuse or threat).

"We work in an industry that, in alcohol, dispenses a mind-altering drug, so we need to be prepared for when the mood changes" says John Haswell of leading health and safety consultants, Perry Scott Nash.

As employers you must take your responsibility for the safety of your employees very seriously and implement measures for their, and your, personal safety. It should also be remembered that everyone has a responsibility for their own personal safety and that of their colleagues. Personal safety is a shared responsibility between the employee and employer.

By preparing well, you can do a great deal to reduce the risks to your personal safety and that of others. Knowing what to do gives you the confidence to respond positively in times of stress, to assess the situation and automatically choose the most appropriate course of action. There are proven ways to prevent or reduce the possibility of violence. Rule 1 - don't assume it won't happen in your venue.

Of course there's no absolute right way to deal with aggression as every situation, even at the same premises can be different because of the individuals involved, the time of day, the cause etc. However the following general guidelines for a team member should always be followed:

Firstly, be Calm

  • It is important, even if someone is trying to provoke you, you do not respond in kind. Meeting aggression with aggression adds to confrontation and someone could get hurt.
  • Take a moment to assess the situation before rushing in.
  • Don't jump to conclusions.
  • Don't let the manner and tone of your voice appear aggressive.
  • Smile and maintain eye contact.
  • Stay calm; speak gently, slowly and clearly. Do not argue or try to outsmart the person verbally.
  • Breathe slowly to control your own tension, keep hold of your temper.
  • Make it clear who you are.
  • Take the aggressor "offstage" i.e. away from an audience (but do not put yourself in danger).
  • Show you are prepared to listen. Be aware of your own verbal signals.
  • Avoid body language which may be misinterpreted, such as looking down on the aggressor, hands on hips, folded arms, raised arm.
  • Do not touch the antagonist if you can help it, keep your distance unless you are certain this will not be seen as an aggressive act on your part.
  • Get medical attention if required.
  • Assure customers - check everyone is OK.
  • Clean away any broken glass or furniture - put the premises back in order.
  • Record and report all details as per the incident/accident procedure.
  • Do NOT dramatise the event.
  • Talk to all staff at the end of the shift, you also need to talk with your Area Manager.

Commenting Haswell added: "Dealing with violence and aggression in the workplace is a complicated and very emotive subject and has too many different scenarios and outcomes to cover here. However, good training, and a refresher at this time would make sense."

"In conclusion, it must be stressed that everybody is different in their response to aggressive or violent incidents. However the procedure that surrounds an incident should be ingrained in your frontline staff and management" he added.

More information on dealing with these situations is available on the following HSE download,, alternatively, for specific guidance and advice please Contact Us

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