Harmful behaviours

Harmful behaviours can harm the person they are directed at and anyone who witnesses the behaviour. They include:

It is more than someone forgetting to say good morning one day. Harmful behaviours become a hazard when it is severe (e.g. very harmful), prolonged (e.g. long term) or frequent (e.g. happens often). 

Identifying and assessing the risks of harmful behaviours 

You must identify if psychosocial hazards, including harmful behaviours, are present in your workplace. 

  • Consult workers. Workers may talk about hazards in different ways. For example, they may say they feel stressed, humiliated, uncomfortable, upset or afraid. They may raise concerns about workplace relationships, culture or with other people’s behaviour.
  • Use surveys and tools. Businesses with more than 20 workers may find the People at Work psychosocial risk assessment tool useful. 
  • Observe work and behaviours.  Extreme harmful behaviours (e.g. physical violence) may be easier to identify and are not tolerated in most workplaces. More subtle forms like crude language, sexist remarks and a degrading or intimidating workplace culture may be harder to identify.
  • Review available information. For example, records of overtime, time off, injuries, incidents or workers’ compensation.
  • Have a way for workers to report and encourage reporting. Treating workers’ concerns seriously and respectfully will help encourage reporting.
  • Identify other hazards present and consider them together. Hazards can interact and combine to create new, changed or higher risks. Harmful behaviours may be more likely to occur and may create a higher risk if workers are exposed to other psychosocial hazards. For example, a worker who is experiencing high job demands may be more likely to behave harmfully to others. 
  • Consider how long, how often and how severely workers are exposed to hazards. The longer, more often and worse the harmful behaviours the higher the risk that workers may be harmed. Workers may be more likely to experience harmful behaviours or be more severely affected by it, because of their sex, gender, sexuality, age, migration status, disability and literacy. The risk of harm rises when a worker faces multiple forms of discrimination. Attributes that make a worker more vulnerable to these behaviours can also make workers less likely to report concerns or incidents.

Controlling harmful behaviours

You must eliminate psychosocial risks, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise them so far as is reasonably practicable. For example:

  • Secure the workplace and control who has access to it (e.g. have private secure change rooms and limit public access to the workplace particularly at night).
  • Increase visibility in the workplace (e.g. use semi-opaque glass for offices to improve natural surveillance).
  • If possible, ban or refuse service to people with a history of poor behaviour (e.g. ban aggressive pub patrons).
  • Limit the cash, valuables and medicines at the workplace.
  • Reduce wait times for services (e.g. transfer calls to other areas during peak times).
  • Manage other psychosocial hazards (e.g. high job demands) to reduce the risk of workers becoming stressed and behaving poorly in the workplace.

For more information on how to control these hazards: 

When choosing control measures you must consider all the hazards present and how they may interact and combine. For information on other hazards see psychosocial hazards

Reviewing control measures 

You must review control measures to check they are working as planned. If a control measure is not reducing harmful behaviours, or is creating new risks, you must make changes.

For more information on meeting your WHS duties see our mental health page.