Work-related violence and aggression can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. 

Work-related violence and aggression may include: 

  • physical assault such as biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, throwing objects 
  • intentionally coughing or spitting on someone 
  • sexual assault or any other form of indecent physical contact, and 
  • harassment or aggressive behaviour that creates a fear of violence, such as stalking, verbal threats and abuse, yelling and swearing and can be in person, by phone, email or online. 

Work-related violence and aggression can result from a range of sources including: 

  • External violence and aggression from customers, clients or members of the public 
  • Internal violence and aggression from other workers, supervisors or managers 
  • Family and domestic violence from a family or domestic relationship when this occurs at the workplace, including if the person’s workplace is their home. For more, go to the Family and domestic violence information.  

Work-related violence and aggression can result in both physical and/or psychological harm to the person it is directed at and anyone witnessing the behaviour. For more about psychological harm, go to the Mental health and COVID-19 information. 

It can happen in any industry but is most common in industries where people work with the public or external clients. Higher risk industries include: 

  • health care and social assistance – this includes nurses, doctors, paramedics, allied health workers, residential and home carers  
  • public administration and safety – such as police officers, protective service officers, security officers, prison guards and welfare support workers 
  • retail and hospitality – including workers at grocery outlets, convenience stores and pharmacies  
  • education and training – including teachers and teachers’ aides. 

Young workers may also experience higher rates of work-related violence in the form of initiation hazing. 

Coughing and spitting 

In the COVID-19 environment, deliberate acts of coughing and spitting on workers have occurred as a form of violence, particularly against police officers, health care workers and emergency response workers. There have also been incidents of customers spitting on retail workers due to product restrictions. Some jurisdictions have introduced specific fines and jail terms for people who intentionally spit or cough on workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Further information about responding to coughing and spitting incidents can be obtained from the police in your jurisdiction (for example, in NSW coughing or spitting on a public official in a way that is likely to cause fear about the spread of COVID-19 is an offence). 

What are my WHS duties to manage work-related violence and aggression?

You must ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from work-related violence. You must take a systematic approach to managing risk with the aim of eliminating the risk, or if this is not possible, minimising the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.  

Workers and others at the workplace also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of themselves or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given to comply with a health and safety duty. 

You need to identify hazards, assess risks and implement controls 

Consult workers on physical and psychological hazards from violence and aggression in the workplace and on how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. For more information, go to Consultation and communication. 

Once you have consulted workers, determined appropriate measures and put them in place, continue to review how you are managing the risks to check your measures are working.  

Identifying hazards

Identifying hazards involves consulting with workers and other duty holders and observing how work is carried out to see what can go wrong. 

  • Work-related violence can arise from hazards that increase stress and conflict. During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses may be welcoming the public back under new conditions. For example, there may be limits on the number of customers in stores, restrictions on products and services, physical distancing measures and contactless collection methods or deliveries.  

External violence and aggression may occur due to:  

  • general stress and anxiety in the community related to physical distancing rules, e.g. if people are not complying with the rules 
  • products and services are restricted or no longer available 
  • business hours are limited  
  • longer queues and wait times and limits on the number of customers in stores 
  • workers do not have the information on-hand to respond to customer requests or are insufficiently trained; procedures have changed and workers and customers are struggling to adjust  
  • not enough workers available to serve the public 
  • handling valuable or restricted items, for example cash or medicines 
  • providing care to people who are distressed, confused, afraid, ill or affected by drugs and alcohol 
  • workers are working in isolation, offsite or in the community, and 
  • increased isolation from support.  

Internal violence and aggression may also occur when:  

  • workers are worried about the health risks they may be exposed to and the effectiveness of preventive measures 
  • roles or workloads are poorly distributed among work teams  
  • work schedules change  
  • there is less face-to-face supervision, or workers are more isolated from support networks 
  • workloads have increased or roles have changed, for example if extra focus is given to regular cleaning and disinfection of the workplace 
  • workers are not adequately trained or familiar with products, services or workplace procedures 
  • workers are worried about their job security 
  • the workplace culture is hostile or does not prevent violence and aggression.  

Racial discrimination may also increase in the form of individual acts of aggression, or collective forms such as targeting workplaces with workers of a particular nationality or ethnicity.    

There may also be stigma around, and the potential for violence or aggression towards, people who have had COVID-19, or those who seem to be acting inconsistently with public health requirements.  

Assessing risks

If you already know the risks associated with a hazard you have identified, and there are well-known and accepted ways to control it, it may not be necessary to assess the risk of that hazard. If you need to assess risk, you must seek input from your workers and others including relevant duty holders. 

You could consider the following to work out the likelihood that someone could be harmed through work-related violence and aggression, and the degree of harm: 

  • who could be exposed to hazards 
  • when they are likely to be exposed to hazards 
  • frequency and duration of exposure to hazards 
  • the ways hazards interact to make new or greater risks 
  • effectiveness of current control measures 
  • the harm exposure could cause. 

Potential harm could: 

  • be physical or psychological 
  • include minor or serious injury and illness, or death 
  • be the result of a single incident, or build up over a longer period. 

Managing the risks of work-related violence

Work-related violence and aggression can impact psychological and physical health.  

New measures may be needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts this has had on your workplace or business operations.  

External violence and aggression

To manage the risk of violence, aggression and harassment at the workplace, consider the following:  

Physical work environment and security  

  • ensure access to the premises is appropriately controlled 
  • increase security measures such as security personnel, video surveillance or duress alarms 
  • ensure internal and external lighting provides good visibility 
  • arrange furniture and partitions to allow good visibility of service areas and avoid restrictive movement 
  • separate workers from the public, for example install protective barriers or screens  
  • prevent public access to the premises when people work alone or at night  
  • limit the amount of cash, valuables and medicines held on the premises  
  • ensure there are no dangerous objects that could be thrown or used to injure someone 
  • provide workers and others with a safe place to retreat to avoid violence 
  • put up signs to reflect that the workplace will not accept any forms of violence and aggression. 

Work systems 

  • manage expectations of customers and clients with communications about the nature and limits of the products or services you are now providing, for example online and using signage at the workplace, e.g. inform customers of reduced services, wait times, their place in the queue or offer them other methods for non-urgent requests (such as online forms) 
  • place purchase limits on the sale of in-demand goods or take them off the shelves and require customers to ask for them specifically 
  • provide information as soon as possible on the availability of services/products or processing delays 
  • clarify the procedures which customers may not be familiar with, such as physical distancing in stores and queuing procedures  
  • adapt opening hours if necessary, and clearly communicate this to the public 
  • avoid workers needing to work in isolation and provide sufficient staff during periods of high customer attendance 
  • monitor workers when they are working in the community or away from the workplace, for example a supervisor checks in regularly throughout the shift  
  • alternate the task of working with customers (in person or over the phone) with other work tasks and ensure workers have their regular breaks 
  • promote awareness messages to customers about new constraints due to the COVID-19 situation, encouraging them to show patience, respect and understanding 
  • evaluate your work practices, in consultation with your workers and their representatives, to see if they contribute to violence and aggression  
  • train workers in how to deal with difficult customers, conflict resolution and when to escalate problem calls to senior staff, including procedures to report incidents 
  • ensure that workers are made aware of their right to cease unsafe work. 

Internal violence and aggression  

There are many things you can do to reduce the risk of violence, aggression and harassment between workers, supervisors and managers, including:  

  • provide a positive, respectful work culture where violence, aggression and harassment is not tolerated 
  • provide a consistent approach to prevent inappropriate behaviour from escalating 
  • regularly review workloads and time pressures with your workers and their representatives 
  • ask workers to provide screen shots and keep records if aggressive behaviour occurs online 
  • improve role clarity by ensuring your workers have well-defined roles and the expectations of them are clear 
  • provide adequate resources and training to your workers so they are able to perform their role confidently and competently. 

Responding to incidents of violence, aggression and harassment

Responses to work-related violence, aggression and harassment will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. 

At the time of an incident 

Workers should be trained in what to do during a violent or aggressive incident, such as: 

  • using calm verbal and non-verbal communication
  • using verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques 
  • seeking support from other workers 
  • asking the aggressor to leave the premises or disconnecting the aggressor from the phone call 
  • activating alarms or alerting security personnel or police  
  • retreating to a safe location. 

Immediately after an incident 

Immediately after a violent or aggressive incident, you should: 

  • ensure that everyone is safe 
  • provide first aid or urgent medical attention where necessary 
  • provide individual support where required, including psychological support to the victim and other workers 
  • report what happened, who was affected and who was involved. 
  • You may need to notify your state or territory WHS regulator if the incident is a ‘notifiable incident’ (see the Incident Notification fact sheet for more information). 

Further information and resources 

SWA materials 

Other resources 

Other laws may also apply depending on the nature and circumstances of the violent or agressive behaviour, for example criminal laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the industrial laws in some jurisdictions.  

Further information can be obtained from: 

Work-related violence and aggression can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. 

Work-related violence and aggression may include: 

  • physical assault such as biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, throwing objects 
  • intentionally coughing or spitting on someone 
  • sexual assault or any other form of indecent physical contact, and 
  • harassment or aggressive behaviour that creates a fear of violence, such as stalking, verbal threats and abuse, yelling and swearing and can be in person, by phone, email or online. 

Work-related violence and aggression can result from a range of sources including: 

  • External violence and aggression from customers, clients or members of the public 
  • Internal violence and aggression from other workers, supervisors or managers 
  • Family and domestic violence from a family or domestic relationship when this occurs at the workplace, including if the person’s workplace is their home. For more, go to the Family and domestic violence information.  

Work-related violence and aggression can result in both physical and/or psychological harm to the person it is directed at and anyone witnessing the behaviour. For more about psychological harm, go to the Mental health and COVID-19 information. 

It can happen in any industry but is most common in industries where people work with the public or external clients. Higher risk industries include: 

  • health care and social assistance – this includes nurses, doctors, paramedics, allied health workers, residential and home carers  
  • public administration and safety – such as police officers, protective service officers, security officers, prison guards and welfare support workers 
  • retail and hospitality – including workers at grocery outlets, convenience stores and pharmacies  
  • education and training – including teachers and teachers’ aides. 

Young workers may also experience higher rates of work-related violence in the form of initiation hazing. 

Coughing and spitting 

In the COVID-19 environment, deliberate acts of coughing and spitting on workers have occurred as a form of violence, particularly against police officers, health care workers and emergency response workers. There have also been incidents of customers spitting on retail workers due to product restrictions. Some jurisdictions have introduced specific fines and jail terms for people who intentionally spit or cough on workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Further information about responding to coughing and spitting incidents can be obtained from the police in your jurisdiction (for example, in NSW coughing or spitting on a public official in a way that is likely to cause fear about the spread of COVID-19 is an offence). 

What are my WHS duties to manage work-related violence and aggression?

You must ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from work-related violence. You must take a systematic approach to managing risk with the aim of eliminating the risk, or if this is not possible, minimising the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.  

Workers and others at the workplace also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of themselves or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given to comply with a health and safety duty. 

You need to identify hazards, assess risks and implement controls 

Consult workers on physical and psychological hazards from violence and aggression in the workplace and on how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. For more information, go to Consultation and communication. 

Once you have consulted workers, determined appropriate measures and put them in place, continue to review how you are managing the risks to check your measures are working.  

Identifying hazards

Identifying hazards involves consulting with workers and other duty holders and observing how work is carried out to see what can go wrong. 

  • Work-related violence can arise from hazards that increase stress and conflict. During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses may be welcoming the public back under new conditions. For example, there may be limits on the number of customers in stores, restrictions on products and services, physical distancing measures and contactless collection methods or deliveries.  

External violence and aggression may occur due to:  

  • general stress and anxiety in the community related to physical distancing rules, e.g. if people are not complying with the rules 
  • products and services are restricted or no longer available 
  • business hours are limited  
  • longer queues and wait times and limits on the number of customers in stores 
  • workers do not have the information on-hand to respond to customer requests or are insufficiently trained; procedures have changed and workers and customers are struggling to adjust  
  • not enough workers available to serve the public 
  • handling valuable or restricted items, for example cash or medicines 
  • providing care to people who are distressed, confused, afraid, ill or affected by drugs and alcohol 
  • workers are working in isolation, offsite or in the community, and 
  • increased isolation from support.  

Internal violence and aggression may also occur when:  

  • workers are worried about the health risks they may be exposed to and the effectiveness of preventive measures 
  • roles or workloads are poorly distributed among work teams  
  • work schedules change  
  • there is less face-to-face supervision, or workers are more isolated from support networks 
  • workloads have increased or roles have changed, for example if extra focus is given to regular cleaning and disinfection of the workplace 
  • workers are not adequately trained or familiar with products, services or workplace procedures 
  • workers are worried about their job security 
  • the workplace culture is hostile or does not prevent violence and aggression.  

Racial discrimination may also increase in the form of individual acts of aggression, or collective forms such as targeting workplaces with workers of a particular nationality or ethnicity.    

There may also be stigma around, and the potential for violence or aggression towards, people who have had COVID-19, or those who seem to be acting inconsistently with public health requirements.  

Assessing risks

If you already know the risks associated with a hazard you have identified, and there are well-known and accepted ways to control it, it may not be necessary to assess the risk of that hazard. If you need to assess risk, you must seek input from your workers and others including relevant duty holders. 

You could consider the following to work out the likelihood that someone could be harmed through work-related violence and aggression, and the degree of harm: 

  • who could be exposed to hazards 
  • when they are likely to be exposed to hazards 
  • frequency and duration of exposure to hazards 
  • the ways hazards interact to make new or greater risks 
  • effectiveness of current control measures 
  • the harm exposure could cause. 

Potential harm could: 

  • be physical or psychological 
  • include minor or serious injury and illness, or death 
  • be the result of a single incident, or build up over a longer period. 

Managing the risks of work-related violence

Work-related violence and aggression can impact psychological and physical health.  

New measures may be needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts this has had on your workplace or business operations.  

External violence and aggression

To manage the risk of violence, aggression and harassment at the workplace, consider the following:  

Physical work environment and security  

  • ensure access to the premises is appropriately controlled 
  • increase security measures such as security personnel, video surveillance or duress alarms 
  • ensure internal and external lighting provides good visibility 
  • arrange furniture and partitions to allow good visibility of service areas and avoid restrictive movement 
  • separate workers from the public, for example install protective barriers or screens  
  • prevent public access to the premises when people work alone or at night  
  • limit the amount of cash, valuables and medicines held on the premises  
  • ensure there are no dangerous objects that could be thrown or used to injure someone 
  • provide workers and others with a safe place to retreat to avoid violence 
  • put up signs to reflect that the workplace will not accept any forms of violence and aggression. 

Work systems 

  • manage expectations of customers and clients with communications about the nature and limits of the products or services you are now providing, for example online and using signage at the workplace, e.g. inform customers of reduced services, wait times, their place in the queue or offer them other methods for non-urgent requests (such as online forms) 
  • place purchase limits on the sale of in-demand goods or take them off the shelves and require customers to ask for them specifically 
  • provide information as soon as possible on the availability of services/products or processing delays 
  • clarify the procedures which customers may not be familiar with, such as physical distancing in stores and queuing procedures  
  • adapt opening hours if necessary, and clearly communicate this to the public 
  • avoid workers needing to work in isolation and provide sufficient staff during periods of high customer attendance 
  • monitor workers when they are working in the community or away from the workplace, for example a supervisor checks in regularly throughout the shift  
  • alternate the task of working with customers (in person or over the phone) with other work tasks and ensure workers have their regular breaks 
  • promote awareness messages to customers about new constraints due to the COVID-19 situation, encouraging them to show patience, respect and understanding 
  • evaluate your work practices, in consultation with your workers and their representatives, to see if they contribute to violence and aggression  
  • train workers in how to deal with difficult customers, conflict resolution and when to escalate problem calls to senior staff, including procedures to report incidents 
  • ensure that workers are made aware of their right to cease unsafe work. 

Internal violence and aggression  

There are many things you can do to reduce the risk of violence, aggression and harassment between workers, supervisors and managers, including:  

  • provide a positive, respectful work culture where violence, aggression and harassment is not tolerated 
  • provide a consistent approach to prevent inappropriate behaviour from escalating 
  • regularly review workloads and time pressures with your workers and their representatives 
  • ask workers to provide screen shots and keep records if aggressive behaviour occurs online 
  • improve role clarity by ensuring your workers have well-defined roles and the expectations of them are clear 
  • provide adequate resources and training to your workers so they are able to perform their role confidently and competently. 

Responding to incidents of violence, aggression and harassment

Responses to work-related violence, aggression and harassment will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. 

At the time of an incident 

Workers should be trained in what to do during a violent or aggressive incident, such as: 

  • using calm verbal and non-verbal communication
  • using verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques 
  • seeking support from other workers 
  • asking the aggressor to leave the premises or disconnecting the aggressor from the phone call 
  • activating alarms or alerting security personnel or police  
  • retreating to a safe location. 

Immediately after an incident 

Immediately after a violent or aggressive incident, you should: 

  • ensure that everyone is safe 
  • provide first aid or urgent medical attention where necessary 
  • provide individual support where required, including psychological support to the victim and other workers 
  • report what happened, who was affected and who was involved. 
  • You may need to notify your state or territory WHS regulator if the incident is a ‘notifiable incident’ (see the Incident Notification fact sheet for more information). 

Further information and resources 

SWA materials 

Other resources 

Other laws may also apply depending on the nature and circumstances of the violent or agressive behaviour, for example criminal laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the industrial laws in some jurisdictions.  

Further information can be obtained from: 

 

Work-related violence and aggression can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. 

Work-related violence and aggression may include: 

  • physical assault such as biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing, throwing objects 
  • intentionally coughing or spitting on someone 
  • sexual assault or any other form of indecent physical contact, and 
  • harassment or aggressive behaviour that creates a fear of violence, such as stalking, verbal threats and abuse, yelling and swearing and can be in person, by phone, email or online. 

Work-related violence and aggression can result from a range of sources including: 

  • External violence and aggression from customers, clients or members of the public 
  • Internal violence and aggression from other workers, supervisors or managers 
  • Family and domestic violence from a family or domestic relationship when this occurs at the workplace, including if the person’s workplace is their home. For more, go to the Family and domestic violence information.  

Work-related violence and aggression can result in both physical and/or psychological harm to the person it is directed at and anyone witnessing the behaviour. For more about psychological harm, go to the Mental health and COVID-19 information. 

It can happen in any industry but is most common in industries where people work with the public or external clients. Higher risk industries include: 

  • health care and social assistance – this includes nurses, doctors, paramedics, allied health workers, residential and home carers  
  • public administration and safety – such as police officers, protective service officers, security officers, prison guards and welfare support workers 
  • retail and hospitality – including workers at grocery outlets, convenience stores and pharmacies  
  • education and training – including teachers and teachers’ aides. 

Young workers may also experience higher rates of work-related violence in the form of initiation hazing. 

Coughing and spitting 

In the COVID-19 environment, deliberate acts of coughing and spitting on workers have occurred as a form of violence, particularly against police officers, health care workers and emergency response workers. There have also been incidents of customers spitting on retail workers due to product restrictions. Some jurisdictions have introduced specific fines and jail terms for people who intentionally spit or cough on workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Further information about responding to coughing and spitting incidents can be obtained from the police in your jurisdiction (for example, in NSW coughing or spitting on a public official in a way that is likely to cause fear about the spread of COVID-19 is an offence). 

What are my WHS duties to manage work-related violence and aggression?

You must ensure workers and others are not exposed to risks to their health and safety, including from work-related violence. You must take a systematic approach to managing risk with the aim of eliminating the risk, or if this is not possible, minimising the risk so far as is reasonably practicable.  

Workers and others at the workplace also have a duty to take reasonable care of their own health and safety, and not adversely affect the health and safety of themselves or others. This includes following any reasonable instruction given to comply with a health and safety duty. 

You need to identify hazards, assess risks and implement controls 

Consult workers on physical and psychological hazards from violence and aggression in the workplace and on how to manage them. Workers often know what the issues are and have ideas about how to manage them. For more information, go to Consultation and communication. 

Once you have consulted workers, determined appropriate measures and put them in place, continue to review how you are managing the risks to check your measures are working.  

Identifying hazards

Identifying hazards involves consulting with workers and other duty holders and observing how work is carried out to see what can go wrong. 

  • Work-related violence can arise from hazards that increase stress and conflict. During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses may be welcoming the public back under new conditions. For example, there may be limits on the number of customers in stores, restrictions on products and services, physical distancing measures and contactless collection methods or deliveries.  

External violence and aggression may occur due to:  

  • general stress and anxiety in the community related to physical distancing rules, e.g. if people are not complying with the rules 
  • products and services are restricted or no longer available 
  • business hours are limited  
  • longer queues and wait times and limits on the number of customers in stores 
  • workers do not have the information on-hand to respond to customer requests or are insufficiently trained; procedures have changed and workers and customers are struggling to adjust  
  • not enough workers available to serve the public 
  • handling valuable or restricted items, for example cash or medicines 
  • providing care to people who are distressed, confused, afraid, ill or affected by drugs and alcohol 
  • workers are working in isolation, offsite or in the community, and 
  • increased isolation from support.  

Internal violence and aggression may also occur when:  

  • workers are worried about the health risks they may be exposed to and the effectiveness of preventive measures 
  • roles or workloads are poorly distributed among work teams  
  • work schedules change  
  • there is less face-to-face supervision, or workers are more isolated from support networks 
  • workloads have increased or roles have changed, for example if extra focus is given to regular cleaning and disinfection of the workplace 
  • workers are not adequately trained or familiar with products, services or workplace procedures 
  • workers are worried about their job security 
  • the workplace culture is hostile or does not prevent violence and aggression.  

Racial discrimination may also increase in the form of individual acts of aggression, or collective forms such as targeting workplaces with workers of a particular nationality or ethnicity.    

There may also be stigma around, and the potential for violence or aggression towards, people who have had COVID-19, or those who seem to be acting inconsistently with public health requirements.  

Assessing risks

If you already know the risks associated with a hazard you have identified, and there are well-known and accepted ways to control it, it may not be necessary to assess the risk of that hazard. If you need to assess risk, you must seek input from your workers and others including relevant duty holders. 

You could consider the following to work out the likelihood that someone could be harmed through work-related violence and aggression, and the degree of harm: 

  • who could be exposed to hazards 
  • when they are likely to be exposed to hazards 
  • frequency and duration of exposure to hazards 
  • the ways hazards interact to make new or greater risks 
  • effectiveness of current control measures 
  • the harm exposure could cause. 

Potential harm could: 

  • be physical or psychological 
  • include minor or serious injury and illness, or death 
  • be the result of a single incident, or build up over a longer period. 

Managing the risks of work-related violence

Work-related violence and aggression can impact psychological and physical health.  

New measures may be needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts this has had on your workplace or business operations.  

External violence and aggression

To manage the risk of violence, aggression and harassment at the workplace, consider the following:  

Physical work environment and security  

  • ensure access to the premises is appropriately controlled 
  • increase security measures such as security personnel, video surveillance or duress alarms 
  • ensure internal and external lighting provides good visibility 
  • arrange furniture and partitions to allow good visibility of service areas and avoid restrictive movement 
  • separate workers from the public, for example install protective barriers or screens  
  • prevent public access to the premises when people work alone or at night  
  • limit the amount of cash, valuables and medicines held on the premises  
  • ensure there are no dangerous objects that could be thrown or used to injure someone 
  • provide workers and others with a safe place to retreat to avoid violence 
  • put up signs to reflect that the workplace will not accept any forms of violence and aggression. 

Work systems 

  • manage expectations of customers and clients with communications about the nature and limits of the products or services you are now providing, for example online and using signage at the workplace, e.g. inform customers of reduced services, wait times, their place in the queue or offer them other methods for non-urgent requests (such as online forms) 
  • place purchase limits on the sale of in-demand goods or take them off the shelves and require customers to ask for them specifically 
  • provide information as soon as possible on the availability of services/products or processing delays 
  • clarify the procedures which customers may not be familiar with, such as physical distancing in stores and queuing procedures  
  • adapt opening hours if necessary, and clearly communicate this to the public 
  • avoid workers needing to work in isolation and provide sufficient staff during periods of high customer attendance 
  • monitor workers when they are working in the community or away from the workplace, for example a supervisor checks in regularly throughout the shift  
  • alternate the task of working with customers (in person or over the phone) with other work tasks and ensure workers have their regular breaks 
  • promote awareness messages to customers about new constraints due to the COVID-19 situation, encouraging them to show patience, respect and understanding 
  • evaluate your work practices, in consultation with your workers and their representatives, to see if they contribute to violence and aggression  
  • train workers in how to deal with difficult customers, conflict resolution and when to escalate problem calls to senior staff, including procedures to report incidents 
  • ensure that workers are made aware of their right to cease unsafe work. 

Internal violence and aggression  

There are many things you can do to reduce the risk of violence, aggression and harassment between workers, supervisors and managers, including:  

  • provide a positive, respectful work culture where violence, aggression and harassment is not tolerated 
  • provide a consistent approach to prevent inappropriate behaviour from escalating 
  • regularly review workloads and time pressures with your workers and their representatives 
  • ask workers to provide screen shots and keep records if aggressive behaviour occurs online 
  • improve role clarity by ensuring your workers have well-defined roles and the expectations of them are clear 
  • provide adequate resources and training to your workers so they are able to perform their role confidently and competently. 

Responding to incidents of violence, aggression and harassment

Responses to work-related violence, aggression and harassment will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. 

At the time of an incident 

Workers should be trained in what to do during a violent or aggressive incident, such as: 

  • using calm verbal and non-verbal communication
  • using verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques 
  • seeking support from other workers 
  • asking the aggressor to leave the premises or disconnecting the aggressor from the phone call 
  • activating alarms or alerting security personnel or police  
  • retreating to a safe location. 

Immediately after an incident 

Immediately after a violent or aggressive incident, you should: 

  • ensure that everyone is safe 
  • provide first aid or urgent medical attention where necessary 
  • provide individual support where required, including psychological support to the victim and other workers 
  • report what happened, who was affected and who was involved. 
  • You may need to notify your state or territory WHS regulator if the incident is a ‘notifiable incident’ (see the Incident Notification fact sheet for more information). 

Further information and resources 

SWA materials 

Other resources 

Other laws may also apply depending on the nature and circumstances of the violent or agressive behaviour, for example criminal laws, anti-discrimination laws, and the industrial laws in some jurisdictions.  

Further information can be obtained from: 

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