Threat of violence at work
Threat of violence - Ingressi
Workplace violence refers to physical violence or the threat of violence at work. It can involve threats, harassment or intimidation, or physical violence, such as pushing, grabbing, hitting, kicking or, in extreme cases, attacks with a weapon. The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act obligates employers to take action to prevent workplace violence.
Threat of violence - Yleistä
Employees may be vulnerable to violence or threatened with acts that pose a risk to their safety, well-being and health. Violence or the threat of violence in the workplace affects employees’ well-being at work even though only a small number of incidents lead to physical injury. Violent behaviour is usually intentional, but it can be unintentional for example due to a customer’s condition.
Workplace violence may be
- intrusion into the workplace for the purpose of robbery or other violent intent,
- violence between an employee and, for example, a customer, patient or student, and
- violence instigated by a co-worker.
The threat of violence can also be a source of work-related strain even at workplaces where there have been no violent incidents.
Workplace violence does not include factors related to social interactions in the work community, such as harassment or other inappropriate treatment. To learn more, visit the page about Unfair treatment at work.
Statistically, workers in the following sectors are more likely to be threatened with violence than the average:
- health care (interaction with patients),
- social and labour services (interaction with customers),
- security industris,
- education and teaching,
- transport, and
- support services.
Prevention of evident threats of violence
Employers must take the threat of workplace violence and its management into account as part of health and safety at work. Employers are responsible for evaluating the risk of workplace violence inherent in their employees’ work and whether the threat of violence is evident. Evident threat of violence means that an employee’s likelihood to be the subject of violence in the workplace is higher than the average.
Regardless of the sector, evident threat of violence is associated with certain jobs and working conditions, in particular:
- working alone,
- working in the evening or at night,
- working in facilities with open access,
- working in another person’s home,
- working at a worksite located in a risk area, or areas with high levels of violence and crime,
- working with intoxicated or violent customers or the people escorting them for example to administer first aid or to physically restrain a person,
- handling medications,
- handling or guarding money or other valuables,
- preparing, processing and deciding on applications for benefits or individuals’ rights, and
- restricting an individual's right to self-determination.
High-risk sectors may have jobs where the threat of violence is not evident. On the other hand, there are also sectors in which, due to the nature of the work, there may be an increased threat of violence, even though the sector is not considered to be at-risk based on statistics.
Where there is an evident risk of violence, the employer must take all reasonable steps to prevent violent incidents. Where there is an evident risk of violence and it is not possible to prevent violent incidents, the employer must have appropriate security systems and equipment in place.
Those working alone may be vulnerable to violence
Working alone should be avoided if there is an evident risk of violence. If this is not possible, the employer must use technological solutions and preventive measures to reduce the risk of violence. Preventive measures can be introduced in respect of, for example,
- the work environment,
- working hours,
- staff training, and
Employers have a duty to provide any employees of theirs who work alone with means to communicate with the employer, their representative or colleagues as necessary. Employees who work alone must also have the means to call for help.
For more information, see Working alone.
Threat of violence - Työntekijälle
Follow your employer’s instructions
Make sure that you attend all training courses organised by your employer and read all the instructions provided. Practise how to act in an emergency. Follow your employer’s instructions. Let your employer know if you find their instructions impractical.
Make sure that you are familiar with the alarm systems in your workplace and that you know how to use them. Let your employer know if you notice any weaknesses in their security arrangements or access to help.
Report all violent incidents
Let your employer know about any violent or threatening situations in the workplace. This will allow your employer to keep track of how frequent violent incidents are and what they typically entail. Your employer can use the information to explore ways to prevent similar incidents in the future. The information is also useful for assessing whether more security measures are needed and what the priorities should be.
Threat of violence - Työnantajalle
The threat of violence must be identified and assessed
Employers must ensure that all risks of violence relating to individuals’ work tasks, the work environment and practical arrangements at the workplace are identified and assessed. Where possible, identified threats of violence must be prevented in advance. In situations where identified threats cannot be eliminated, their impact on the health and safety of employees must be assessed. The assessment is designed to give the employer enough information to be able to decide what action to take and in what order.
During risk assessment, employers must consider if their sector is considered to be a high-risk sector. Regardless of the sector, there may be an increased threat of violence in some jobs due to the nature of the work. Factors to consider during the identification and assessment of the risks associated with the job include accidents and the risk of permanent health complications, any accidents and incidents that have occurred in the past and an individual employee’s personal suitability for the job.
The employer and staff members carry out the identification and assessment together. The employer may consult external experts, such as their occupational health care provider. To learn more, visit the page about Risk Assessment
The identification and assessment of risks must include for example the following:
1. Work environment
- structural solutions and protections, such as access routes and exits, furniture placement, locks, loose objects
- technical solutions such as alarm and access control systems, alarm systems and equipment for calling for assistance, CCTV, maintenance and regular testing of the systems
- security and guarding services
- staff uniforms and footwear
- storage of money and valuables, storage of medicines
2. Working arrangements
- handling of money and valuables, handling of medicines
- reception arrangements and guiding customers
- number of employees in different shifts
- safety of working alone
- young workers / workers with limited work experience
3. Operating and safety instructions
- instructions for incidents and threats; what to do and how to prevent. Includes work carried out outside the workplace, such as at a customer’s home
- being familiar with alarm and access control systems
- regular safety issue briefings and safety training
- reporting accidents and incidents
- providing support after an incident
4. Induction training
- entire personnel
- new employees and temporary workers
- employees of another employer working at the same worksite
- temporary agency workers
The surveys and assessments must be kept up to date. They must the checked every time there is a significant change in the conditions. Threat of violence must be constantly managed.
Steps must then be taken to manage and minimise the risks identified in the course of the assessment.
Occupational health care providers assess whether there is a particular risk of health complications due to threat of violence. Employers must ensure that any employees of theirs who perform work that presents a special risk of illness attend an initial medical examination and periodic examinations at regular intervals specified by their occupational health care provider.
To learn more, visit the page about Statutory and other health examinations supporting work capacity.
Preventing the risk of violence by means of workspace design
The risk of violence can be reduced through the choice of procedures and workspace design. Employers have an obligation to provide their employees with procedures and workspaces that are as safe as possible and that help to prevent violent incidents.
Key considerations include, among others,
- the layout of the workspace
- the locations of entrances and exits
- the positioning of furniture, and
- signage and customer-service arrangements.
Security systems can help to reduce the probability and consequences of violent incidents. Employees’ workspaces in facilities where there is an evident risk of violence must be equipped with alarm systems and communication solutions that enable employees to get help quickly.
The alarms must be designed and positioned so that they are easy for employees to use in an emergency. The functioning of the security systems must be checked regularly.
Ensuring that employees follow safe procedures
Employers have a duty to train and instruct their employees to perform their work safely. Employees need to be familiar with the risks inherent in the workplace and their work and with factors that can lead to violence or threats of violence. Employees also need to be familiar with safe procedures in order to prevent dangerous situations.
It is important for employees to know what to do if a situation gets out of hand. Employees’ ability to deal with violent incidents can be improved by means of regular exercises. Training should ideally complement employees’ professional competence, such as their interpersonal skills and ability to deal with difficult customers.
Where there is an evident risk of violence, the employer must put clear procedures in place for dealing with violent incidents. The procedures must be clear and easy to understand, and they should ideally address
- different kinds of dangerous situations
- how to act in the event of specific kinds of dangerous situations, and
- what steps to take after a violent incident or a dangerous situation and the division of responsibilities in respect of, for example,
- providing first aid and seeking medical help for the victim
- if necessary, reporting the incident to the police and the regional occupational safety and health authority
- coordinating follow-up, and
- following up on the incident in order to determine whether any corrective action needs to be taken.
Employees who work in high-risk environments must have immediate access to help after a violent incident.
The first point of contact should be the employer’s occupational health care provider. In addition to attending to the care of individual victims, employers should ideally call in an expert to assess the impact of the incident on the work community as a whole. Discussing the incident afterwards with colleagues and the management is also important, where necessary.
Incidents of violence and threats must be monitored
The employer must monitor the occurrence of violence and any related threats at the workplace. The employer must introduce both managers and employees to the practices of reporting violent accidents or incidents. Employers must determine the causes of the accident or incident and the circumstances, record what happened and take the necessary actions to prevent a similar incident or accident.
The employer must monitor the working environment and compliance with the guidelines on the threat of violence.
Reporting serious violent incidents to the authorities
Employers are obliged to immediately notify the occupational safety and health authority and the police of any accident resulting in death or severe injury. Read more on the page Serious occupational accident.
Pursuant to the Criminal Code of Finland, the public prosecutor can bring charges for petty assault if the offence was directed at a person due to his or her employment and the offender is not part of the personnel at the place of employment. These kinds of offences can be reported to the police not only by the victim (injured party) but also a representative of the victim’s employer. Employers therefore have a right to report violent incidents to the police on behalf of their employee, if the employee is unable or does not want to report the incident themselves. In other words, the incident can be reported and processed without the victim’s (injured party) involvement.
Threat of violence - Lainsäädäntö
- Section 27 – Threat of violence
- Section 12 – Content of occupational health care
- Chapter 3, Section 9 – Occupational safety and health
- Section 3 – Especially harmful work
- Section 2 – Special risk of illness
- Section 8 – List of examples: night work
- Chapter 21, Section 16 – Right to bring charges