Work-related or workplace violence is any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This definition covers a broad range of actions and behaviours that can create a risk to workers’ health and safety.

Some forms of workplace violence include:

  • verbal threats;
  • sexual assault;
  • threatening with a weapon;
  • throwing objects;
  • pushing, shoving and hitting; and
  • spitting and biting.

Exposure to work-related violence includes being the victim of or witnessing and assault by a person or persons who may or may not be work colleagues, e.g. a visitor to your workplace, or a bank robbery, a hold-up and other violent events at work.

Exposure to work-related violence is identified as one of the most commonly specified sub-categories of mental stress claims in Australia. While work-related violence can occur at any workplace, some industries have more occurrences of workplace violence than others.

These include:

  • law enforcement;
  • security;
  • healthcare;
  • aged care;
  • disability services;
  • youth services;
  • education;
  • retail;
  • hospitality; and
  • finance and banking.

The two sources of work-related violence are service-related violence and external or intrusive work-related violence.

It is important to consider the activities within your business and determine those activities where there is a risk of work-related violence, specifically service-related and external.

Service-related violence

Service-related violence arises when you provide services to clients, customers, patients or prisoners. Your workers are at greater risk of service-related violence if they are working alone or providing care to persons with unpredictable behaviour. They might also be working with high-value products, such as pharmaceuticals, cash or jewellery, or working in an environment where systems of service may result in agitation or misunderstanding, e.g. long waiting times in a doctors’ surgery.

Naturally, security providers, the police force and paramedics can be subjected to service-related violence.

External or intrusive work-related violence

External or intrusive violence is usually associated with robbery or other crimes. The perpetrator is usually someone from outside the workplace. Although external or intrusive violence can happen in any industry, it is common in the retail, hospitality, security, cash-handling, finance and banking industries.

Risks increase if your workers are working alone and after hours, have face-to-face communication with members of the public and work with high-value products, e.g. jewellery, medication and cash.

To reduce the risk of violence at your workplace, start by identifying the operational activities that may expose workers and others to the risk of work-related violence.

Talk with others in the workplace, including workers and other persons conducting businesses or undertakings, where there is a shared duty, to determine the risk of work-related violence for each operational activity identified.

Next, investigate the possibility of eliminating the operational activities where there is a risk of work-related violence, e.g. eliminating the practice of your workers working alone, or walking to a carpark unaccompanied.

Then, if the risks cannot be removed, identify work systems and procedures that aim to significantly reduce the risk associated with work-related or workplace violence. These systems and procedures may include special alarm systems and security monitoring systems, implementing policies and procedures for working alone.

You may also wish to conduct welfare checks throughout the day.

Site security access systems should not be overlooked, such as swipe cards and ID tags. Protective barriers also could be a consideration, used to separate workers from the public.

Review the way you and your employees handle cash or other high-value items.

Create a behaviour management plan that documents strategies to assist a person, such as a carer or educator, in managing a person with diagnosed behavioural difficulties.

Finally, provide your workers with training on workplace violence awareness and how to respond to incidents of work-related violence.

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