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Health and Safety Services

Personal Safety of Staff and Students

Birkbeck records its thanks to The University of Sunderland, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen and the University of Bedfordshire for permission to make use of material from their websites on this topic.


The purpose of this policy is to clarify the standards and arrangements that Birkbeck has in place for dealing with abusive, aggressive, or violent behaviour on its premises or towards Birkbeck staff on other premises while on business connected with their employment.

Note that Birkbeck has 'Dignity at Work and Study' procedures that deal with allegations of harassment, bullying and victimisation of staff, students and others.

General Principles

  • Birkbeck does not tolerate abusive, aggressive, or violent behaviour on its premises.

  • Birkbeck requires that the risk of abusive, aggressive, or violent behaviour occurring is assessed by heads of schools and departments and that appropriate risk control systems and precautionary measures are put in place to eliminate or minimise significant risks e.g. at the Finance counter, Registry reception etc.

  • Staff are required to report incidents involving abuse, threats, aggression, or physical assault whether they result in injury or not to their line manager for possible further action and also to the College Health and Safety Officer in case patterns of incidents and/or remedies can be identified. Reporting to the College Health and Safety Officer can be done directly by telephone or email or via an accident/incident form at:

  • Birkbeck will support members of staff who are victims of violence or aggression at work with counselling.

  • Birkbeck will instigate disciplinary measures in line with its regulations and procedures against persons who are abusive, aggressive, or violent on Birkbeck premises.

  • Birkbeck will support criminal prosecution by the police of third parties who are aggressive or violent towards its staff or students on its premises

General Tips for Dealing with Confrontation and Aggression

Incidents involving aggressive behaviour are rare at Birkbeck. However, the risk from such incidents can be minimised by the simple precautions outlined below. Please note that this guidance is intended as advice only.  It is not exhaustive and is not intended as the authorised Birkbeck procedure that must be adopted.

  • Always try to treat people with respect, regardless of their behaviour.

  • Stay as calm as possible; it can keep tensions from escalating and may help defuse the situation. 

  • Try to avoid using the phrase “calm down” as this may suggest to the aggressor that the staff member has failed to grasp the importance of the situation.

  • Attempt to show empathy and concern.  For example; by saying "I can see your frustration, and I'm frustrated too.  Unfortunately, the rules are..........".

  • Rather than insisting that you are right and the other person is wrong, you should let the person know they see the situation differently.  For example, you could say "I can see we don't see this the same way".  You could also consider bringing in another person who could help.

  • If a person is verbally abusive, you should tell them you will be able to help them better if they lower their voice, and stop attacking. 

  • Do not promise or suggest outcomes which are not possible to get out of a difficult situation. 

  • In one-to-one situations where confrontation is thought to be a possibility, try to maintain a safe distance from the other person without appearing stand-offish e.g. sit nearest the door and if possible at the other side of a desk. 

  • Staff should trust their intuition and suspend or terminate any interview or discussion where it appears that the situation might get out of control.  You might simply explain to the person that the interview or discussion is being suspended or terminated and leave the room/reception desk etc but where a member of staff feels that terminating the interview or discussion might inflame the situation further they can opt to make up an excuse to leave the room/reception desk etc such as:

  • fetching another colleague who may be able to assist in the discussion

  •  getting a drink for themselves or the other person

  •  requiring the use of the bathroom

  •  politely excuse themselves giving no reason

  • Then call for assistance from a colleague or ring the College's emergency number 555 from an internal phone and ask for assistance from Birkbeck security.

  •  The member of staff may then return to continue the interview/discussion or bring a colleague or colleagues to assist or inform the person that the interview has been terminated. 

Dealing with Physical Violence

Where it is suspected that  violence might ensue the discussion or interview should be suspended or terminated  immediately by the above means.  However, should a physical assault actually occur:

  • attempt to get away from the attacker at the first available opportunity, preferably into another area where there are other people.

  • attempt to push a panic button, if available and/or make as much noise as possible and shout for help.

  • as a last resort, people are permitted by law to use reasonable force to defend themselves but it is always best not to attempt to engage in physical or verbal confrontation with anyone.

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Health & Safety Services, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX. Tel: 020 7631 6218, email: