An employer’s obligation to protect staff from acts of violence was highlighted in a recent South Australian case, reported by the ABC News, in which a waste removal company owner was convicted of two counts of assaulting an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officer, using abusive language and two counts of hindering an EPA officer.
In 2018, EPA officers had been documenting the contents of two skip bins at sites operated by GP & Sons when they were attacked by owner Gavin Pillar. ABC News reported that one of the EPA officers had suffered physically and psychologically following the incident, and requested a transfer to a role with less public involvement.
In addition to the charges brought against Mr Pillar, GP & Sons was also charged with, and pleaded guilty to, illegally stockpiling several tonnes of asbestos at its depots during various periods in 2018.
In fining the company $49,000, the Court stated that the company had blatantly disregarded its responsibilities under the Environmental Protection Act, and had exposed the community and its own employees to potential harm.
Your duty to protect your workers
Exposure to work-related violence is identified as one of the most commonly specified sub-categories of mental stress claims in Australia.
Safe Work Australia reports identify:
- 37% of workers report being sworn or yelled at in the workplace; and
- 22% of workers report being physically assaulted or threatened by patients or clients;
Your organisation has a duty of care to remove, or reduce, the risks associated with work-related violence. To achieve this, you should consider control measures that address the work environment, work tasks and how they are carried out, and the way work is designed and managed.
It is important that your procedures and training address the following:
- how to alert internal and external parties that a work-related violent incident is occurring, e.g. activating a duress alarm or contacting police;
- how to diffuse the situation and deal with the aggressor;
- how to identify and retreat to a safe location, i.e. an evacuation procedure;
- support available to workers at the time of an incident, immediately after an incident and ongoing support, including internal and external support services;
- training in what to do if faced with a potentially violent situation, including different scenarios of work-related violence;
- training workers to predict and know how to prevent and manage aggression or situations where someone could be assaulted; and
- training in systems of work to follow to prevent and respond to incidents of work-related violence, including the types of communication equipment available and when they are to be used.