Workplace abuse can cause high levels of stress and anxiety, whilst spilling over into personal lives too.

A new RSSB report, based on a survey of 769 staff across seven train operating companies, sheds light on a subject which needs tackling.

Workplace abuse was common for train guards, and the platform, ticket office, retail, revenue protection and gateline staff surveyed.

Almost 70 per cent said that they experienced workplace abuse either daily or weekly, but there is a danger in assuming it is an accepted fact of life.

Verbal abuse in the form of yelling, shouting, rude or hostile behaviour had been experienced by 97 per cent of those who had experienced incidents.

Physical abuse, such as kicking and punching, had been experienced by around 25 per cent of respondents. Almost 8 per cent had experienced sexual assaults.

Abusive behaviour could be triggered by a person being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but also by a host of other factors.

Late trains, penalty fares, out of order ticket machines, finding oneself on the wrong train, lack of announcements, all provide the fodder for common, but inexcusable behaviour.

It is the staff themselves who must deal with the psychological effects. 

Mental health is clearly affected by workplace abuse, with 55 per cent agreeing or strongly agreeing that they felt anxious about the possibility of encountering abuse from customers in the course of their daily work.

It was particularly difficult to ‘switch off’ after incidents, with respondents describing both short and long-term effects – there were difficulties sleeping and feeling fatigued, and some staff ruminating over instances of abuse.

Because the effects of abuse may not be experienced until sometime after an incident, effective, ongoing support from employers is required.

So did staff feel they were supported?

A proportion (46 per cent) said they were satisfied with the support they had accessed at work, though 29 per cent said they weren’t.

An issue that cropped up here was that 45 per cent of respondents said they did not actually know what type of employer support was provided. Perceptions of the support provided would likely improve with greater awareness of what was on offer, a higher number of welfare checks, more face-to-face interaction, closer listening to staff concerns, and a greater recognition of the emotional impact of abuse on staff.

There is also a clear role for training to play because 66 per cent of respondents rated their workplace abuse training as just ‘fair’ or ‘poor’. Over a fifth had never actually had any training, and only 27 per cent said they were confident or very confident in recognising the symptoms of workplace abuse.

Another area worthy of attention is the reporting of workplace abuse.

Only 38 per cent of respondents could say that abuse was reported ‘most of the time’ or ‘always’, suggesting a level of under-reporting.

A high proportion (68 per cent) said that a reason for not reporting abuse was that no action was taken.

Just over half thought that abuse was seen as part of the job, suggesting that the high frequency of exposure normalised it.

For staff to be motivated to report in the first place, they will need to receive feedback on any actions taken.

If no action is taken, the reasons should still be explained to close the feedback loop.


  • You can always use CIRAS if other reporting options have been exhausted.
  • You can report if you feel threatened by abuse or have any concerns about the support or training your employer offers.