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Be proactive to protect your workers from workplace violence

The importance of protecting your workers from acts of violence was highlighted during the pandemic with an apparent rise in aggressive customer behaviour in a range of public environments from health facilities and retail establishments. The issue has flared again following a direction from SafeWork SA to a McDonald’s restaurant in Adelaide to install safety screens to protect staff from aggressive customers.

As reported recently in ABC News, a series of attacks and verbal abuse of staff by customers at a busy McDonald’s restaurant, some of the incidents captured on camera, led to a complaint by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association to SafeWork SA.

As a result of the complaint, SafeWork SA had been discussing with the licensee steps that could be taken to eliminate or reduce the risk of harm. Following being issued with improvement notices, the restaurant installed a series of screens to prevent customers being able to access staff areas, or throw objects or spit at staff.

Managing the risk of violence

Although it may be unlikely in all workplaces, many workplaces do have a risk of some form of workplace violence.

Your organisation should consider whether such a risk exists by consulting with your workers and considering claims history in your organisation and others operating in the same industry. Wherever there is direct public or customer interaction, there will almost always be a risk of some kind.

Develop systems and protocols for the management of the risk of violence. Include engineered controls as a higher level of protection for workers, such as screens, guards and duress alarms. Workplace design, including management and control of queues and cash-handling locations/procedures are also relevant.

Be sure to train all staff in your workplace violence policies so they are prepared to handle a potentially violent situation. The training should focus on both external and internal sources of threat.

And remember, the obligation is to proactively remove risks. So don’t wait for an act of violence to be the trigger to implement controls. Act now before an incident occurs.

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