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Last updated: 21.06.2023

Threat of violence – prepare for violent situations

Violence is a real threat in many service sector jobs. Employers are responsible for making the workplace as safe as possible.

Completely preventing the violent actions of customers is difficult, but preparations can be made to minimise the harm. 

The risk of violence must be considered during the planning of the workplace’s duties and environment. All workers must be trained to manage violent situations. Safety and security instructions must be clear and understandable. The employer must prepare the instructions in cooperation with the workers and their representatives. 

Employer responsibilities: 

  • Organises the workspaces and working methods to be as safe as possible 
  • Issues instructions for managing violent situations 
  • Arranges options for alerting help (relying on personal phones is not enough) 
  • Arranges options for aftercare 
  • Posts safety and security instructions for all to see, including emergency phone numbers. 

The employer must organise inductions for all new workers. No exceptions are allowed – even for short-term employment. 

Never risk your personal safety 

Every worker should understand that they must never risk their own safety to protect the employer’s property. It is very risky to resist a robber or try to catch a thief outside, for example. The employer must provide precise instructions for the prevention of shoplifting and may not order workers who are working alone to apprehend shoplifters if the risk of violence is considerable, for example. 

Employers are responsible for assessing the risk of violence 

Employers are responsible for assessing the health and safety risks of their workplaces, as well as taking all necessary protective and corrective measures. The severity of the threat of violence is difficult to measure, which is why its risk is often overlooked. The workplace’s protective measures should be based on a situational assessment that includes both incidents and worker experiences. 

Assessing the risk of violence 

Employers can collect data about the hazards of the workplace and the magnitude of the risks in many ways. One of the most effective tools is monitoring “close calls” (situations where danger was narrowly avoided). If the number of close calls keeps growing, this indicates poor preparation, and further measures must be taken. The monitoring system must make it easy for workers to record close calls and report them as soon as possible. At its simplest, the system could be a notebook. 

In addition to close calls in the workplace, it is good to monitor what happens around the workplace. Is the neighbourhood peaceful? If there are incidents, at what time or on what days do they usually occur? The police may be able to provide some information, but talking to the neighbours (other service sector companies) and reading the local news can also produce results. 

Even the threat of violence is stressful 

The mental stress caused by the threat of violence must be included in risk assessments. Research indicates that workers fear violence even if they have not been attacked themselves. Even in peaceful workplaces where incidents have been minor at most, news of attacks may cause concern.  

If the workplace or a nearby workplace has suffered incidents, this may create an atmosphere of insecurity. It is important to allow workers to express their fears. The workers’ sense of security can be improved by the employer: take safety and security seriously, provide clear instructions, and organise training. 

The occupational health service can measure the workers’ well-being at work with working condition surveys, for example. Because situations may change on short notice, it is vital that workers feel comfortable with sharing their experiences at any time. 

What to do if the risk of violence is assessed to be significant? 

There is no universal solution. The duties, times, and circumstances involving a risk of violence must be determined, along with the bets methods for preventing it at each workplace. 

Some workplaces may require more on-site security guards or need to reduce or eliminate the times when workers must work alone. Other workplaces may simply need to improve their lighting, remove obstructions from windows (including decals), and train their workers. 

Requiring more technical safety equipment is hardly feasible for every situation, but it may not be categorically excluded either. Workplace violence prevention measures must be agreed upon in industrial cooperation for occupational health and safety. If a workplace has been robbed once already, its workers can reasonably expect a substantial investment in safety and security. 

Working alone 

Specific instructions and arrangements are often necessary to make lone working safe. One special consideration is a silent method for alerting help. Working alone does not have a clear-cut effect on the risk of violence, but workers who are threatened with violence while alone often suffer more than those who face danger with a workmate. 

Read more about working alone. 


Workers who are aware of the threat of violence recover faster from the psychological effects of incidents. The worst effects are suffered by those who are taken completely by surprise.  

Victims of violent incidents may downplay the effects and their feelings. Victims must be kindly but firmly directed to aftercare to ensure that they get help. For example, an immediate debriefing by the occupational health service helps victims recover faster and avoid serious after-effects.  

Unprocessed incidents may result in permanent anxiety that interferes with working and ultimately harms the worker’s work ability. 

Collective agreements include clauses about the threat of violence 

The threat of violence is addressed by some collective agreements. You can read about the rules of specific industries below. 

  • Commerce (PAM wiki, in Finnish) 
  • Property services (PAM wiki, in Finnish) 
  • Hotel, restaurant, and leisure industry (PAM wiki, in Finnish) 

Useful links 

See also