The problem of aggression to staff in a general hospital was examined from the perspective of Poyner & Warne's (1986) model of workplace violence A total of 396 staff (39% response rate) provided information on their experience of violence in the past year and a subsample were additionally interviewed about their current levels of mental health (GHQ) Some 72 staff (21% of respondents) had been physically assaulted and 90% of these assaulted staff worked beyond the accident and emergency department, e g in medical wards Nurses were physically assaulted, threatened and verbally abused at higher rates than other professionals Employee factors (younger age, shorter National Health Service experience and attendance at violence training) were significantly associated with assault (P < 0 05) Postoperative confusion, receiving treatment and delayed treatment were common precursors of aggression Mental health was significantly worse amongst staff exposed to threats (P < 0 01) This exploratory study establishes that violence is a problem across a number of general hospital departments and occupations and we argue that effective training should be made more available for staff at risk of assault