Workplace Violence

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Workplace Violence - WorkSafe Guardian

What is Workplace Violence?

Safe Work Australia has defined workplace violence and aggression encompass any instance where an individual is subjected to abuse, threats, or physical assault while on the job or engaged in work-related activities. 

Workplace violence and aggression can manifest in various forms, including:

  • Physical assault, which encompasses actions like biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, or throwing objects.
  • Deliberate acts such as coughing or spitting on someone.
  • Sexual assault or any form of indecent physical contact.
  • Harassment or aggressive behavior that instills a fear of violence, such as stalking, sexual harassment, verbal threats and abuse, yelling, and swearing.
  • Hazing or initiation practices targeted at new or young workers.
  • Violence stemming from a family or domestic relationship, particularly when it occurs in the workplace, even if the workplace is the person’s home.

Did you know?

Research on workplace bullying and violence details the detrimental impacts on Australian’s and the significant economic and social costs for workers, their family, their organisation and the wider community.

  • 39% of mental disorder claims are caused by harassment, bullying or exposure to violence.
  • 37% of workers report being sworn or yelled at in the workplace.
  • 22% of workers report being physically assaulted or threatened by patients or clients. 
  • 20% of workers say they have experienced discomfort due to sexual humour.
  • 1 in 3 women who claim for a mental disorder stated it involved harassment or bullying.
  • 1 in 5 men who claim for a mental disorder stated it involved harassment or bullying.

Industries impacted by Workplace Violence

Violence can occur across various industries but is more prevalent in roles that involve interactions with the public.

Industries at higher risk of workplace violence include:

  • Healthcare and Social Assistance: This includes professionals such as nurses, doctors, paramedics, allied health workers, child protection workers, and residential and home carers.
  • Public Administration and Safety: Roles in this sector, such as police officers, protective service officers, security officers, prison guards, and welfare support workers, are particularly prone to violence.
  • Retail Trade and Food Services: Workers in retail and food services, especially new and young employees, face elevated risks. This category encompasses employees at grocery outlets, pharmacies, petrol stations, restaurants, bars, and takeaways.
  • Education and Training: Teachers and teachers’ aides in the education sector are also vulnerable to workplace violence.

These industries require special attention to ensure the safety and well-being of workers who frequently interact with the public.

Risk to Lone Workers

Lone workers are employees who operate without direct supervision while performing their duties. They often work in remote areas or engage in one-on-one interactions with members of the public or clients.

Due to their isolated nature, lone workers face increased risks of violence, aggression, or injury, as there may be no immediate assistance available in case of emergency. Certain job roles that involve public-facing responsibilities, such as social care workers, nurses, and security guards, are particularly vulnerable to violence and aggression.

Despite these heightened risks, it is imperative that employers prioritise the safety of those working alone. Employers have a duty to take reasonable measures to mitigate the risks faced by lone workers and ensure they feel adequately protected while performing their duties.

Preventing Workplace Violence

If you are a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU), it is your responsibility to fulfill Work Health and Safety duties to protect the health and safety of workers and others by preventing exposure to potential risks, including those posed by acts of violence. 

Here are 5 ways to promote workplace safety and minimise the risk of violence.

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Develop Comprehensive Violence Prevention Policies

Establishing robust policies addressing violence, harassment, and bullying is critical. These policies should clearly define unacceptable behaviors, provide guidelines for reporting incidents, and outline disciplinary measures. By adopting a zero-tolerance approach and communicating it to all employees, organisations can foster a culture of respect and safety.

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Conduct Training and Awareness Programs

These programs should cover topics like anti-bullying strategies, conflict resolution, mental health awareness, and the different types of violence (e.g., criminal intent, customer/client, worker-on-worker, domestic, and ideological). By educating employees on recognising warning signs, managing conflicts, and promoting a non-violent culture, organisations empower individuals to respond effectively.

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Establish Transparent Reporting Procedures

Employees should feel comfortable reporting incidents without fear of reprisal. Employers should establish reporting mechanisms that ensure trust, confidentiality, anonymity, and a commitment to prompt resolution. Clearly communicate these reporting procedures to every employee, emphasising their safety as a top priority.

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Strengthen Security Measures

Implementing security measures can significantly deter workplace violence. This includes visitor access management, video surveillance systems, security guards or patrols, entry systems (e.g., key cards, pins), and employee safety tools.

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Fostering a Strong Workplace Safety Culture

A supportive work environment is key to enhancing employee well-being and minimising the risk of violence. Implementing employee well-being programs and providing resources for mental health support can further contribute to a positive and secure workplace.

If you are experiencing violence or harassment and are in need of support please contact these services.

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