Work-related 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, including:
- verbal threats;
- sexual assault;
- threatening someone 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:
- assault by one or more people who may or may not be work colleagues (such as a visitor to your workplace); or
- bank robberies, hold-ups and other violent events at work.
Your duty of care
Any person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a responsibility to address work-related violence.
It is the PCBU’s primary of duty of care to ensure that all workers and others in the workplace are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from operational activities.
Importantly, work-related violence is not only a physical health concern, it is also a significant psychological health risk.
In extreme cases, injuries sustained from work-related violence can be fatal.
All PCBUs must provide safe systems of work and adequate information, instruction, training and supervision aimed at ensuring the psychological and physical health of workers and others who may be exposed to work-related violence.
The price of not addressing workplace violence
PCBUs who fail to meet their duty of care relating to workplace violence can receive large fines.
In Inspector Bestre v Tempo Services Ltd; Inspector Bestre v Jontari Pty Ltd (2005), a company that provided cleaning services to a school was prosecuted for failing to provide a safe system of work after an intruder assaulted a cleaner one morning.
The employer pleaded not guilty on the basis that the assault was an unforeseeable event, and that cleaning is a low-risk activity.
The court rejected this argument, finding that the risk of assault was foreseeable, and that the employer could have reduced the risks of working alone through measures such as:
- carrying out an adequate risk assessment of working alone at the school;
- providing the worker with a personal alarm;
- adopting a team cleaning system;
- rescheduling work so that it was performed while others were around; and
- instructing cleaners to lock doors while cleaning.
The principal contractor, Tempo Services Ltd, was found guilty of breaching s 8(2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW) (OHS Act) and fined $70,000.
The subcontractor that provided the workers, Jontari Pty Ltd, was found guilty of breaching s 8(1) of the OHS Act.
It was discharged on the condition that it enter into a good behaviour bond for a period of 2 years.
A second incident very similar to the Jontari case occurred in 2005, Inspector Doyle v Tempo Services Ltd (2005).
In this case, Tempo Services was fined $85,000, again for breaching s 8(2) of the OHS Act.
These cases provide important lessons to all PCBUs, as they demonstrate that a PCBU is required to take all reasonably practicable steps to reduce the risk of work-related violence and working alone, even if it is believed the risk is unlikely to eventuate.
5 steps to mitigate the risks of work-related violence
While there are many ways that work-related violence can be mitigated, you should always consider taking these key steps:
- Identify the operational activities that may expose workers and others to the risk of work-related violence.
- Consult with the relevant stakeholders, including workers and other PCBUs, where there is a shared duty to determine the risk of work-related violence for each operational activity identified.
- Investigate the possibility of eliminating the operational activities where there is a risk of work-related violence.
- 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.
- Provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision by:
- including work-related violence policies and procedures in an induction package;
- providing emergency response training, e.g. responding to incidents of work-related violence;
- testing emergency response systems; and
- providing resilience training.