Managing risks

If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) you must eliminate or minimise the risk of racism at work, so far as is reasonably practicable.

You should follow the WHS risk management process, just as you do for other WHS risks.

The WHS risk management process involves: 

  • identifying the hazards  
  • assessing the associated risks 
  • implementing control measures to eliminate or minimise risks, and 
  • regularly reviewing control measures to ensure they remain effective.  

You must do these things in consultation with your workers and their health and safety representatives (HSRs) if you have them.  

Identifying and assessing the risk of racism 

All PCBUs need to be aware of the risk of racism occurring in their workplaces. 

To find out if racism is or could be happening your workplace: 

  • listen to the concerns of your workers and HSRs 
  • consider with who, when and where your workers interact and the potential risks
  • observe how people behave and interact with each other
  • monitor interactions with customers and clients
  • review past formal or informal complaints, and other sources of data like worker surveys, job satisfaction, absenteeism, career progression and staff turnover, and
  • assess your workplace policies, procedures, and practices and consider how these may disadvantage or inadequately support people from racially marginalised groups. 

The risk of racism could be higher if the organisation has: 

  • low worker diversity
  • power imbalances
  • a strict hierarchical structure
  • a workplace culture that tolerates racist ‘jokes’ and other types of harassment
  • lack of policies or processes to handle reports of unacceptable behaviour
  • the presence of other psychosocial hazards that might increase the risk of harm
  • perceived barriers to raising safety issues (e.g. power imbalance or stigma)
  • workers and/or leaders who have a limited or inaccurate understanding of racism and cultural safety
  • workers in locations where they can’t get help and support, or
  • interaction with customers, either face-to-face, on the phone or online.

Organisations with a lower risk of racism are those organisations that are inclusive, have higher worker diversity, offer diversity training, and are culturally safe. 

This means that everyone, regardless of culture or background, is treated with respect, inclusion, and transparent management and health and safety policies. 


  • There are a range of reasons workers may not have raised concerns or reported experiences. Don’t assume racism is not an issue in your workplace just because no one has said anything. 
  • You must think about all psychosocial risks together, rather than just each risk on its own. To effectively control risks, you must control the underlying causes as well as directly addressing harmful behaviours.
    • The risk of a harmful behaviour occurring may be higher in the presence of other psychosocial hazards. 
      •  For example, high job demands or inadequate support – workers may be more likely to be abused by customers if there are long queues and wait times.
    • The impact of a psychosocial hazard may be greater in the presence of other psychosocial hazards. 
      • For example, a worker exposed to racism from a customer is more likely to be harmed if they are not supported by co-workers or managers (poor support) and the PCBU has failed to appropriately address inappropriate behaviour in the past (poor organisational justice). 

Controlling risks

You must control the risk of racism at work so far as is reasonably practicable. That means doing everything you reasonably can to eliminate the risk. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, you must minimise it as much as you can.

For psychosocial risks, such as racism, there are a range of things you must take into account when deciding what control measures to implement. You must consider: 

  • the likely duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers and other persons
  • how the risk may interact or combine with other psychosocial hazards  
  • the design of work, including job demands and tasks
  • the systems of work, including how work is managed, organised and supported
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of the workplace, including the provision of safe means of entering and exiting the workplace, and facilities for the welfare of workers
  • the design and layout, and environmental conditions, of workers’ accommodation
  • the plant, substances and structures at the workplace
  • workplace interactions or behaviours, and
  • the information, training, instruction and supervision provided to workers.

As with all WHS matters, you must consult with your workers and their HSRs when deciding what controls to implement.

Listening to workers and other people with lived experience of racism who want to share their stories will help you to understand what actions you might take to eliminate or minimise the risk of it occurring in your workplace, particularly if you have no lived experience yourself. However, it is not workers’ responsibility to educate PCBUs about racism or how to respond. 

Workers exposed to racism are likely to experience stress from the initial incident as well as ongoing stress if they perceive the risk has not yet been controlled, even if the behaviour does not occur again. In this situation the stress itself may be prolonged and cause harm. 

Examples of control measures 

  • Foster a positive and respectful work culture which values cultural safety and where racism and other harmful behaviours are not tolerated. 
    • A culturally safe workplace demonstrates behaviours, policies and structures that enable all workers to work effectively cross-culturally. Characteristics of a culturally safe workplace include clear, value-free, open and respectful communication, trust between workers with all contributions valued and stereotypical barriers recognised and avoided. 
  • Design workplace processes, policies and procedures (in consultation with workers) which embed the principles of cultural safety and are inclusive, transparent and applied consistently.
  • Provide training for workers about cultural safety and other training to support workplace change.
  • Set, model and enforce acceptable behaviour standards for all people in the workplace.

Your workers may also be exposed to racism from external factors, such as customers or clients. Consider measures such as:

  • banning or refusing service to persons with a history of poor behaviour. If service is necessary, such as for medical care, put in place additional measures to protect workers and others, and
  • ensuring the physical environment provides workers and others with a safe place to retreat, particularly if racism is coupled with violence and aggression. Find more information in the Preventing workplace violence and aggression guide.

Workers should know how to report racism if it occurs, and be aware of what support, protection and advice is available to them. 

Encouraging workers to report racism

If a worker is being harassed or is exposed to racism they might not report it for a number of reasons. For example:

  • if the other person is in a position of authority (e.g. a manager or supervisor) or a position of influence (e.g. a client) 
  • concerns about the consequences of reporting, such as the person finding out about the complaint and the behaviour escalating, or exacerbating an already vulnerable situation or relationship
  • lack of awareness of their rights and reporting avenues
  • underlying distrust of institutions, including a fear of being silenced or discredited, or 
  • the likelihood of having their report dismissed or ignored.

Workers should be encouraged to report racism and other forms of harassment. You can do this by: 

  • providing workers with a range of accessible and user-friendly ways to report racism informally, formally, anonymously and confidentially 
  • talking to workers to make sure they understand how to report racism or behaviours of concern, their right to representation and the support, protection and advice available
  • training key workers (contact persons) to receive reports of racism and give support and advice 
  • helping workers understand the processes for how reports of racism will be dealt with 
  • providing supportive, consistent and confidential responses to reports, and 
  • implementing systems to prevent retaliation and victimisation of people involved in reports of racism.  

Monitor and review control measures

The last step of the risk management process is to monitor and review the effectiveness of the implemented control measures to check they are working as planned. Control measures may be working well and should be maintained, but still be reviewed regularly. If a control measure is not working well, it must be changed or replaced.

Reviewing control measures should be done regularly and is required:

  • when the control measure is not eliminating or minimising the risks so far as is reasonably practicable
  • before a change at the workplace that is likely to have new or different WHS risks that the control measure may not effectively control
  • if a new hazard or risk is identified
  • if the results of consultation indicate a review is necessary, or
  • if an HSR requests a review because they reasonably believe one of the above has occurred and it has not been adequately reviewed already.

For more information on the risk management process, see the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks

For more information on managing psychosocial hazards, see the model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.