Time to fight back

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Many pub staff have been victims of violence at some stage in their career. Jackie Annett reports on diffusing situations before they become...

Many pub staff have been victims of violence at some stage in their career. Jackie Annett reports on diffusing situations before they become dangerous.

When the Suzy Lamplugh Trust announced that pub workers were at a higher risk from violence at work than most, it didn't come as any surprise to those working in the pub trade.

The general consensus within the industry is that bar workers and licensees have been suffering silently for years, with little being done to resolve the situation.

If you ask any licensee or long-serving member of barstaff if they have ever experienced any violence in the past, most will be able to tell you about the time they were either attacked or caught up in the middle of a fight.

But it is a shocking fact that, in some cases, they will not live to tell the tale. It's not uncommon for doorstaff to die in the line of duty, and not unknown for licensees and barstaff to suffer the same fate.

However, the trade does not have to take these risks lying down. Nowadays, there are specialised training courses teaching pub workers how best to deal with such problems when, or even before, they arise.

Sarah Simpson from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust has run courses for the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), teaching licensees the best thing to do in such situations.

"The most important thing is team work," she said. "If people work together and look out for each other, staff will be in a much stronger position.

"Many places employ code words or phrases that staff can use to warn other workers of potential problems. For example, someone might say 'keep an eye on nine o'clock', to pinpoint where a trouble-maker might be in the pub."

She agreed that it was important to train staff on how to deal with violence at work, and that apart from concentrating on team work, staff should also try and think ahead.

"Try and work out when problems tend to occur. Is it a certain time of day or night? If you can recognise a pattern then it is much easier to deal with such situations," she said.

Body language is also important. "If you're very tall and someone is arguing with you, they may see your body language as threatening. The best thing to do is to take a couple of steps back so that you are at the same eye level," explains Sarah.

"But most importantly keep an eye on other staff and, in the event of trouble, don't be afraid to call for help from the manager or doorstaff," she added.

If staff are attacked, it's vital that you provide a support network for them. The trust provides some guidelines on what licensees can do if staff fall victim to an attack:

  • remember verbal abuse can be just as upsetting as a physical attack
  • avoid any criticism of the employee's actions
  • what might have been or should have been done in this incident is less important than what can be learnt for the future to avoid a recurrence
  • listen, support and encourage the victim to talk but do not expect to solve anything at this stage
  • know your limits and ask for specialist help if you need it
  • don't expect to be an expert counsellor or psychologist
  • offer the victim time off work at full pay if appropriate and if possible.

Alex Salussolia, the managing director of Glendola Leisure, which owns large city pubs including Waxy O'Connors in London's Leicester Square, runs training courses on how to deal with violence a couple of times a year for his staff.

"We bring some ex-soldiers in who run a consultancy firm and they hold a session with staff and area managers on how to deal with aggression," said Alex.

"They will carry out basic role plays on the best way to approach and deal with such situations and will even teach them basic self defence to use as a last resort. This will also help to build their confidence."

Suffolk-based pub company Greene King is also keen to teach its staff how to deal with violence. Head of security Bruce Thomas said it was important to look at the psychological affects of violence and non-verbal communication.

"There are three important stages: calming, persuading and closing. If a licensee is anxious this will show. We can teach them ways to relax in such situations. Then they need to persuade the attacker that there is another way out other than violence.

"The closing stage involves what happens next. Often it is best to bar the person when they next come in rather than on the spot as they are less likely to react violently."

The BII has recently introduced the National Barpersons Certificate which teaches barstaff some of the basics on how to deal with violence at work. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust is holding a conference on October 17 as part of Personal Safety Week. This looks at what you can do to prevent such situations. Ms Simpson said: "It's not necessarily expensive to protect workers against violence, although it does take up a lot of time. But in the end it is without doubt worth it."

The Victim Support line is available on 0845 3030900 and for the Suzy Lamplugh Trust call 020 8876 0305.

How people react after an attack

Victim Support has devised a four-stage model of typical reactions to violence. These include:

  • Stage 1:​ Shock, fear, anger, helplessness, disbelief and guilt.
  • Stage 2:​ A period of disorientation which may include distressing thoughts about the event, nightmares, depression, guilt, fear and a loss of confidence. A person might experience insomnia, lethargy, headaches and nausea. Alcohol consumption and smoking may increase, they may be easily startled or withdraw socially.
  • Stage 3:​ Eventually people will accept what has happened to them and try to understand it on their own terms.
  • Stage 4:​ Most people will then adjust. Self-esteem returns and they take a more positive view of the future. Progress through these stages is affected by factors such as the support the victim gets, especially in the workplace. But, unfortunately, some people may get "stuck" and never fully recover.

Market Report

The Publican's Market Report survey of licensees in August found:

  • 52 per cent thought violence had got worse
  • 38 per cent thought it had stayed the same
  • six per cent thought it had reduced.

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