By Michael Selinger
An employer’s obligation to protect their staff from occupational violence was highlighted recently in the ABC News which reported on the prevalence of violence against teachers.
The ABC News report focused on statistics from last financial year that nearly 500 Queensland government teachers lodged workers’ compensation claims relating to workplace violence. The total number of claims would be higher as the statistics did not include teachers from non-government schools.
Workplace violence is regrettably more common than most would hope. Certain professions are more high risk, including teachers, nurses, customer service staff and first responders like ambulance, fire and police members.
But every organisation potentially could face a workplace violence incident.
As an employer, you are required to identify and minimise the risk of violence. A number of steps that can be taken include:
1. Identifying the operational activities that may expose workers and others to the risk of work-related violence.
You should consider the operational activities your business undertakes and the historical hazard and incident reports, as well as workers’ compensation claims data to determine when your workers may be at risk of violence while they are at work. Industry guidelines as well as local and industry crime statistics will also be relevant.
2. Consulting with the relevant stakeholders, including workers, to determine the risk of work-related violence for each operational activity identified.
Consulting with your workforce will assist in drilling down to areas of potential risk. If you have health and safety representatives or a committee, consider a workplace audit to identify where the risks lie.
3. Investigating 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.
If it is possible to avoid these high-risk activities entirely, or at least reduce their frequency, this approach would be a major step towards reducing the likelihood of workplace violence.
4. Where it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the activity, identifying work systems and procedures that aim to significantly reduce the risk associated with work-related violence.
A number of readily available systems and procedures include:
- communication systems, e.g. personal duress alarms and security monitoring systems;
- 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;
- policies and procedures for working alone;
- identification systems, i.e. clear identification of employees, authorised visitors and contractors; and
- site security access systems, e.g. swipe cards.
5. Providing adequate information, instruction, training and supervision.
To properly support your workforce, you should implement procedures and educate your workers about how to deal with a situation where there is a potential for violence to occur, 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 psychological support and resilience training to workers carrying out the high-risk work.
Being proactive is the best protection
If you consider that work-related violence may pose a risk to your workers, get on the front foot. Ensure you acknowledge that risk and the steps you will take to manage it in a work-related violence policy. The policy should outline your commitment to addressing and dealing with workplace violence. Then implement systems of work and training, as well as encouraging the reporting of incidents. And importantly, don’t tolerate a culture of acceptance of workplace violence being ‘just part of the job’. Aim to eliminate it completely.