3 min read

6 ways to reduce the risks of work-related violence

By Michael Selinger

[Ed Note: Work-related violence is increasingly common and can happen to anybody working in any industry, particularly industries that are open to the public or those that work closely with distressed or unstable members of the community.

Work-related violence can cause physical or psychological damage to your workers. If your workplace is open to the public or external clients, your workers could be at a greater risk.

Although work-related violence can happen at any workplace, it more commonly occurs in the following industries:

  • retail and hospitality;
  • health, education and disability support;
  • security and law enforcement;
  • construction; and
  • banking and finance.

Perpetrators of violence in the workplace are not always your workers – they can also include third parties such as clients, customers or other service users of your business, such as patients, students and wards of the state.

Common hazards that lead to third-party violence include:

  • handling cash or other valuables;
  • working remotely or in isolation, e.g. at night; and
  • providing services to distressed individuals or groups.

It’s important to be aware of these hazards and to protect your workers at all times. If you can’t completely eliminate hazards, you must take all reasonable steps to reduce the risks by implementing a range of control measures.

Below, Michael will outline 6 control measures you can use to reduce the risks of work-related violence. Just make sure that when you implement these control measures, you do not introduce a new hazard into your workplace, e.g. by fencing your premises with barbed-wire or electric fencing to deter intruders, make sure your workers are not at risk of injury.

Until next time…]

How to prevent work-related violence

Unfortunately, a substantial number of Australian workers are subjected to work-related violence on a daily basis, either from other staff or from external sources such as members of the public.

SafeWork SA has recently published a comprehensive guide, called Preventing and Responding to Work-Related Violence, which sets out some important steps you can take to protect the health of your workers. What is work-related violence?

To understand the extent of your responsibility to your workforce, it is important to consider what constitutes work-related violence. It can include a broad range of misconduct, such as:

  • physical harm such as biting, scratching, hitting, kicking, pushing, shoving, tripping and grabbing another person;
  • threatened assault, such as throwing objects;
  • verbal threats of physical harm;
  • attacking with weapons (makeshift or otherwise); and
  • criminal assaults.

Who is usually the perpetrator?

The harm usually comes from one of three main sources:

  1. From an external party where violence against your staff is intentional, such as an armed robber or a disgruntled member of the public seeking to cause physical harm, e.g. an angry motorist throwing objects at a construction worker.
  2. From other staff in your business. This tends to be less common and could be the result of personal disputes between colleagues that may or may not be work-related. The risk that such violence can occur within the workplace cannot be ignored, particularly if it may be associated with bullying or harassment.
  3. From third parties who interact with your business because of the service nature of your business.

6 control measures can you implement to reduce work-related violence

It is important that you take a proactive and systematic approach to the risks of work-related violence in your workplace.

This approach includes:

  • Develop and implement a violence prevention policy that identifies the potential sources of violence.
  • Consult your workers about the issues and obtain their input as to where hazards exist and how work systems can be improved.
  • Assess the hazards that could lead to violence in your workplace – and remember that your workers may undertake their duties in a number of different locations which also need to be assessed.
  • Implement risk controls, including considering any necessary physical changes to the work environment, e.g. barriers or additional electronic security protection. This also involves assessing the effectiveness of current work practices, such as cash handling, to ensure it only occurs in a safe environment, e.g. away from the public.
  • Train your staff on how to respond to any potentially violent situations, including reporting near-misses.
  • Investigate incidents, even if handled by an external authority such as the police, to ensure you learn lessons from the incident to prevent a reoccurrence.
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