3 min read

Work-related violence: 5 steps to protect your workers

By Andrew Hobbs

HOSPITALS, police stations, Medicare and other government offices – we’ve seen the signs appear in all these places, an earnest note telling people that “violence or abusive behaviour against our staff will not be tolerated.”

Threats and actual violence against or witnessed by your employees are becoming more and more commonplace, and there is also little doubt the number and severity of these cases is increasing.

In 2015-16 there were 2,130 cases where a worker had to take more than one week off following an assault at the workplace – almost double the number of claims recorded in 2000-01 – according to data compiled by Safe Work Australia.

Workers in healthcare, aged care, law enforcement and disability and youth services, as well as those in education, security, banking, retail and hospitality workers are most at risk of these assaults – often by abusive customers – which can range from verbal threats to pushing, hitting, spitting or biting, threatening with a weapon or even sexual assault.

Work-related violence is not only a physical health concern, it is also a significant psychological health risk, and as an employer, you have a duty to eliminate the risk of workplace violence where possible, and to minimise it where not.

5 key steps for managing the risk of workplace violence

Here are five key steps to help you identify and minimise these risks:

  1. Identify the operational activities that may expose workers and others to the risk of work-related violence.

Review existing hazard and incident reports, workers’ compensation claims data and industry guidelines as well as local and industry crime statistics to determine when your workers may be at risk of violence while they are at work.

  1. Consult with the relevant stakeholders, including workers, to determine the risk of work-related violence for each operational activity identified.

Speak with your health and safety representatives and conduct a workplace audit and walkthrough inspection to identify where the risks lie.

Remember that to consult effectively, you should actively promote the fact that you are seeking your workers’ input and ensure that your workers have a method to provide their feedback.

  1. Investigate the possibility of eliminating the operational activities where there is a risk of work-related violence.

Workplace violence typically falls into two categories:

  • service-related violence – where the violence comes from people the worker normally works with; and
  • external or intrusive workplace violence – normally associated with robbery or other crimes.

In both instances, workers are at greater risk if they are:

  • working alone;
  • working with high-value products, such as medication or cash; and
  • working with limited communication methods – such as no emergency response systems.

Eliminating a hazard is always the first choice when it comes to implementing risk controls. If it is possible to avoid these high-risk activities entirely, this would be a major step towards reducing the risk of workplace violence.

  1. Where it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the activity, identify work systems and procedures that aim to significantly reduce the risk associated with work-related violence.

These systems and procedures may include:

  • communication systems, e.g. personal duress alarms and security monitoring systems;
  • policies and procedures for working alone;
  • movement records, i.e. a schedule of where the worker will be throughout their shift;
  • welfare checks, i.e. regular contact between the worker and someone at the workplace;
  • identification systems, i.e. clear identification of employees, authorised visitors and contractors; and
  • site security access systems, e.g. swipe cards.
  1. Provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.

Develop and implement procedures to educate your workers about how to deal with a situation where there is a potential for violence while they are at work, including:

  • putting in place work-related violence policies and procedures in a training and induction package;
  • providing emergency response training, e.g. responding to incidents of work-related violence;
  • testing emergency response systems; and
  • providing resilience training to workers carrying out the high-rick work.

What else do you need to know?

If work-related violence poses a risk to your workers, you should develop a work-related violence policy, stating your commitment to addressing and dealing with the issue and being the basis of the work-related violence information and training you provide to your workers.

You should also consider developing a procedure for responding for incidences of work-related violence – which might include a plan for dealing with an aggressor, an evacuation procedure and any necessary physical or psychological support.

Further suggestions about what these policies and procedures should cover are available in chapter V3 Violence in the Workplace of the Health & Safety Handbook.

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