Violence at work and the threat of violence has undergone a major change in working life. In the 21st century, violence is more and more ingrained in our society and it has become an everyday occurrence. It is particularly encountered in areas such as the police, security, social and health care, service and transport professions.
Violence and the threat of violence are a reality in working life. A lot of work has been done to manage this threat and information on the subject is easy to find. Risk assessment models, guidance and training are available. Everyday working life has changed and demands for efficiency have increased. Increasingly, an employee may be solely responsible for ever expanding entities. Children who are in need of special support and adults with disabilities are expected to manage like others despite being aggressive. People who work alone are increasingly confronted with overwhelming or surprising situations.
Employee turnover is increasing. Substitutes and temporary workers come and go. Orientation and guidance take place virtually, if at all. There is very little social support because there is no time to build a community. There is also very little investment in working spaces. The spaces are cramped and do not keep up with the new job description. For example, facilities in the care sector are designed for those customers who are in better condition. Technical aids would be readily available but funds are not available and not enough is invested in quality. Because of the deficiencies in the facilities, they can also be difficult to use.
Short-term saving becomes expensive if qualified staff does not stay, people become exhausted, ill, switch jobs or, at worst, become incapacitated after being traumatized by a violent situation. Excessive saving can be seen both in society and at company level.
The investigation and assessment of threats of violence must be as comprehensive as possible and updated. Reporting and analyzing reports of violence and threats of violence are essential tools for providing a realistic picture for the employer. If the orientation of the staff is not done well, reports will not be made. There is a need to focus on reporting and to emphasize that the victim is not blamed. The reports need to be analyzed and feedback provided to the parties filing the reports on what action has been or will be taken. This maintains the motivation to file reports.
The analysis must not be left at a general level, but must address the root causes. For example, in mobile work, threats from outsiders must be addressed. Collaboration on OSH is extremely important. Each workplace must take time with employees to analyze the root causes of violence and threats of violence and what can be done about it. In addition to work tasks, the threat of violence is influenced by the working environment, workspaces with their structures and equipment, and the skills and ability of staff to manage situations. The measures taken by the employer must be proportionate to the incidence of violence.
The orientation and guidance of workers on safe working practices cannot be overemphasized, and substitutes and temporary workers must not be forgotten. The orientation and guidance should not be left at a general, too theoretical level, but rather should deal with the specific threatening and dangerous situations in the workplace. The individual’s knowledge and skills must not be blindly relied upon, but must be followed up by the acquisition of knowledge in practice. The threat of violence is controlled in workplaces where employees are trained and occupational health and safety cooperation works. These workplaces often have low turnover rates, so a culture of workplace safety exists and is evolving.
The experience of a threat of violence is always real and must be taken seriously. If not handled properly, the situation can become a burden for the worker, weakening work capacity and reducing work commitment. Utilizing occupational health care, for example in workplace surveys and other cooperation, contributes to managing the threat of violence. Particularly in work involving the risk of illness, the threat of violence may also justify periodic medical examinations for the workers.
Debriefing organised by the occupational health service or discussion about threat situations among the workplace’s own staff are some effective management tools. Active and continuous updating and revision of the rules of the workplace will promote knowledge about violence and the threat of violence, and support working ability and continuation.
The threat of violence is present in society. However, employees must feel that they are in control. The sense of control is supported by workplace practices. The purpose of OSH monitoring is to support workplace cooperation and to ensure that the employer is aware of work-related violent situations, prevents them and provides good practices.
Director, Occupational Safety and Health, Regional Administrative Agency of Southern Finland