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.


Top stories for Workplace violence


Hospital charged over assault of nurse

Workplace violence

A Melbourne health service has been charged with alleged health and safety breaches following the assault of a nurse by a patient at one of its facilities. WorkSafe Victoria has filed three charges against Austin Health at the Heidelberg Magistrates’ […]

By Michael Selinger on August 8th, 2019
Healthy Workplace

Your questions answered: Do we need a return-to-work coordinator?

Workplace violence

Q: I am aware that under the WHS Act, a business must have a trained return-to-work coordinator. However, in Victoria we are still under the OHS Act. Should we have a trained return-to-work coordinator?

By Jeff Salton on May 31st, 2018
office violence

Work-related violence: 5 steps to protect your workers

Workplace violence

Threats and actual violence against or witnessed by your employees are becoming more commonplace, and there is no doubt the severity of these cases is increasing.

By Andrew Hobbs on November 14th, 2017

New Bill in ACT to prevent violence in the workplace

Workplace violence

As part of its move to stamp out domestic violence, the ACT Government has also taken the step of introducing legislation designed to remove workplace violence and to give victims a quick and effective option of seeking a protection order from the courts.

By Michael Selinger on June 23rd, 2016

When domestic violence enters the workplace

Workplace violence

As an employer, what can you do when you believe an employee is suffering from domestic violence? Nicole says there are several areas employers can focus on.

By Jeff Salton on November 12th, 2015

Three steps to reduce the risk of violence at work

Workplace violence

The risk of workplace violence has made the news again, this time with increasing violence faced by paramedics in the course of their duties...

By Michael Selinger on June 5th, 2015

6 ways to reduce the risks of work-related violence

Workplace violence

Work-related violence can cause physical or psychological damage to your workers. Here are 6 control measures you can use to reduce the risks of violence...

By Michael Selinger on July 8th, 2014