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Workplace or occupational violence can have significant short and long term impacts on a worker’s psychological and physical health. These can in turn have significant economic and social costs for workers, their family, their organisation and the wider community.

  • The number of reported incidents for workplace violence is constantly increasing due to the rise in drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and dementia.

Workplace violence: a definition

Workplace violence can be any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances arising out of, or in the course of their work.

  • The violence can be either directed at the person or as a result of witnessing violence against someone else.

The definition of workplace violence covers a broad range of actions and behaviours that create a risk to the health and safety of all workers. Examples include:

  • biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking
  • punching, pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
  • throwing objects
  • verbal threats
  • aggravated assault
  • any form of indecent physical contact
  • threatening someone with a weapon or armed robbery.

First responders

Workers who are first responders in an emergency—police, paramedics, emergency hospital staff, security officers and fire fighters—or in correctional services or the health and aged care sectors, are the most likely to be exposed to workplace violence. However, it can happen in any industry.

  • Many incidents that happen to first responders go unreported, which makes it difficult to know the full impact of violence on workers in this sector. This results in a great number of work related injuries and illnesses that need to be considered, with processes put into place to reduce, and if possible eliminate workplace violence completely.

Work health and safety duties

If you manage or control a workplace, you need to make sure workers and others in the workplace are not exposed to risks to their health and safety from workplace violence.

Key risk factors for workplace violence include:

  • working alone, in isolation or in a remote area with the inability to call for assistance
  • working offsite or in the community
  • working in unpredictable environments
  • communicating face-to-face with customers
  • handling cash, drugs and/or valuables
  • providing care to people who are in distress, afraid, ill or incarcerated
  • service methods that cause frustration, resentment or misunderstanding
  • providing care or services for people who have unreasonable expectations of what an organisation and or employee can provide to them
  • enforcement activities.

Risk assessment

To determine the likelihood that someone could potentially be harmed in your workplace through workplace violence, you could ask questions such as:

  • What risk factors are present in the workplace?
  • Has an incident happened before, either within this workplace or somewhere else?
  • If it has happened before, how often does it happen?

To determine the possible consequences, you should then ask:

  • Will it cause minor or serious injury, or even death? That injury could be physical or psychological, and could be the result of a single incident, or build up over a longer period.

What you need to do

The best way to do reduce the likelihood of workplace violence is to eliminate the risk of exposure to it. If that’s not possible, you need to minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable.

Prevention and management of workplace violence requires an integrated organisational approach. The nature and location of work, the types of clients, staffing levels and skill mix can all affect the risk of exposure to workplace violence.

This means the control measures need to be tailored to your workplace. Examples of control measures include:

  • Ensuring the work environment is free from danger through good workplace design or redesign, for example placing barriers, height adjustments, providing safe means of entering and exiting a workplace.
  • Consulting with health and safety representatives and workers.
  • Training workers so they are aware of what to do if faced with a potentially violent situation. Training should also help workers to predict and know how to prevent and manage aggression or situations where someone could be assaulted.
  • Providing supervision and support and communication equipment.
  • Reviewing systems and procedures periodically and after an incident, to ensure the risk is eliminated or minimised as far as practicable.

Young workers

Young workers are more likely to have a mental disorder claim due to workplace violence than older workers.

Young workers are particularly vulnerable to injury at work as they may lack the experience, knowledge and skills to understand the risks involved in a task they are doing. And they may not be aware of what their rights and responsibilities are when it comes to WHS.

  • You should ensure that young workers are provided with training and information so they are able to work safely.

Further advice

SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about compliance with eliminating or minimising workplace violence. If you need help, please contact your state or territory work health and safety authority.

This site is undergoing constant refinement. If you have noticed something that needs attention or have ideas for the site please let us know.

Last modified on Monday 29 July 2019 [7241|32696]