If you’re a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) you must eliminate or minimise health and safety risks of workplace sexual harassment so far as is reasonably practicable.
You should follow the WHS risk management process to manage the risk of sexual harassment, just as you do for any 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 any health and safety representatives (HSRs) if you have them.
To identify the risk of sexual harassment, you need to gather information about the hazards in your workplace and assess the associated risk. You must consider how often workers are exposed to the risk of sexual harassment and how severe those risks might be.
To find out if it could happen at your workplace, you should:
- talk to your workers (and any HSRs) about their concerns
- walk around and look at your workplace, particularly for areas where someone could hide, restrict movement or if there is anything offensive on walls or workstations
- look at the online environment, like the security settings, social media use and how workers interact online
- think about work systems and practices
- monitor interactions with customers and clients
- watch your workplace culture, worker behaviour and how leaders interact with workers
- consider surveying your workers
- review past formal or informal complaints, and other sources of data like absenteeism and staff turnover.
Assessing the risks
Assessing the risk of sexual harassment will help you work out what is reasonably practicable to control it. To assess the risk of harm, you need to consider the workers affected and the duration, frequency and severity of their exposure to sexual harassment.
- Duration – how long is the worker exposed to the risk of sexual harassment?
- Frequency – how often is the worker exposed to the risk of sexual harassment? How often does sexual harassment occur?
- Severity – how severe is the sexual harassment and the workers’ exposures?
The risk of sexual harassment happening at your workplace could be higher if you have:
- low worker diversity
- power imbalances
- a workplace culture that supports or tolerates sexual and other types of harassment
- alcohol and social duties as part of work
- workers in locations where they can’t get help and support
- leaders who don’t understand sexual harassment, its nature, drivers and impacts.
Risks can also come from working with clients, customers and members of the public.
You must think about all the psychosocial risks together, rather than just each risk on its own. For example, a worker exposed to sexual harassment from a customer is more likely to be harmed if they do not have other workers to support them (low job support) and aren’t allowed to change the way they work (low job control) to prevent the situation occurring.
When controlling the risk of sexual harassment, you must consider:
- the likely duration, frequency and severity of the exposure of workers and other persons to sexual harassment
- how the risk of sexual harassment 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
Choosing the right control measures depends on your workplace.
Consult with your workers and any HSRs and identify as many controls as you can.
Consider which controls would be most reliable and effective in eliminating or minimising the risk of sexual harassment so far as is reasonably practicable. Multiple controls will usually be needed.
Keep trying to minimise the risk of sexual harassment until further steps are not reasonably practicable.
Sexual harassment policies and training for workers help to minimise the risk of sexual harassment. But first consider more effective and reliable controls that don’t solely rely on the appropriate behaviour of workers and others.
For information on how PCBU's can meet their duties see the model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.
The Guide on preventing workplace sexual harassment has information on practical steps you can take to control the risks.
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. 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 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 information on managing the risks of sexual harassment see the model Code of Practice: Managing psychosocial hazards at work.
The Guide on preventing workplace sexual harassment also has information about risks and how to identify, assess and control them.