Violence and Aggression Towards Frontline Workers – The Security Response

Abuse against frontline workers is a recurring problem, which the Covid pandemic brought to the fore. The trend has been particularly felt in healthcare; a survey commissioned by NHS Charities Together found that almost 50 per cent of all staff report that they have been victims of abuse from patients. More than half (54 per cent) of those surveyed also believe that levels of abuse have increased between January 2021 and January 2022.

Some of the most common triggers of abuse include patients’ perceptions around waiting times and access to adequate treatment, as well as refusal to comply with COVID-19 protocols, such as the use of face-coverings and limits to visitor capacity. Such measures tend to be more strictly enforced in hospitals, often generating tension between staff and patients due to the disconnect between national law and hospital regulations which, in certain instances, has resulted in confrontation and abuse.

Abuse of frontline health workers tends to be perpetrated by a variety of individuals, including patients under the influence of drugs, patients’ family members, patients and anti COVID-19 activists, among others. Such abuse ranges in severity and includes verbal abuse, racism, physical abuse, psychological abuse, threatening behaviour and incidents involving small weapons. Incidents have also obstructed workers from performing their jobs.

Sadly this trend of violence and aggression is not unique to healthcare. The retail sector has also been severely impacted. According to the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW), a major trade union for retail sector staff, over 90 percent of retail staff across the UK were assaulted, threatened or abused between August 2020 and August 2021. 

USDAW has encouraged shop workers to report incidents of abuse, after preliminary results from nearly 2,000 retail staff showed that throughout 2021, 92 per cent had experienced verbal abuse, 70 per cent were threatened by a customer and 14 per cent were assaulted. 

So how can security respond? 

The use of analytics in surveillance can help identify escalating situations as they develop by alerting a control room operative to coordinate an appropriate response. When speed of response becomes critical, situational awareness technology operates in real time to locate the nearest officer to an incident; these officers should have received rigorous training on de-escalation techniques so they can try to diffuse the situation.

Body-worn cameras can also be effective. In recent months, NHS England Ambulance Trusts and a number of other Trusts have all taken the decision to implement such technology. G4S provides security to one major Midlands NHS Trust, where officers have been equipped with body-worn cameras for some time.

At the NHS Trust where I operate, body-worn cameras were deployed in January 2021 to support the officers. They are activated at the time of our officers attending an incident and have the capability to live stream footage. 

These have helped to de-escalate hostile situations and we have noticed significant changes in the behaviour of individuals when they spot the presence of the body-worn camera. It has the effect of encouraging them to back down and begin complying with instructions. 

They also act as an effective deterrent. Put simply, people knowing that they are on camera (or that they potentially could be) are less likely to perpetrate acts of violence or abuse for fear of legal retribution if nothing else. 

The cameras have also proved useful in driving best practice among our staff, and proved valuable when gathering evidence and supported a number of formal processes resulting in convictions. 

We take our duty of care seriously and the cameras have really helped staff feel safe in what can be a difficult environment. At a time when recruitment is a real challenge, retaining good quality staff is so important and the investment in body-worn cameras has been received positively by our team. 

Body-worn cameras are just one example of how technology and personnel services can combine in integrated fashion to deliver effective security.  

Nirmal Mahabir, Security and Car Parking Services Manager at G4S UK and Ireland