Up to 95% of our healthcare workers have experienced verbal or physical assault.
It's never OK.
Healthcare workers want to help others when they're at their most vulnerable. But we are facing a serious issue in our healthcare sector.
Workers are regularly confronted with violence and aggression – from patients and residents, visiting friends and family, even bystanders.
The people who behave this way are not just those under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or those who are not of full capacity of mind. Often it’s everyday people who find themselves in a stressful situation.
No matter the situation, aggression and violence against healthcare workers is never OK.
Let's work together to stop it.
What is occupational violence and aggression?
Unacceptable behaviour can have a negative impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of our healthcare workers.
Most of us understand that extreme acts of violence are unacceptable. But not everyone realises there is a scale of violence and aggression. Some examples include:
- aggressive gestures or expressions such as eye rolling and sneering
- verbal abuse such as yelling, swearing and name calling
- intimidating physical behaviour such as standing in a healthcare worker’s personal space or standing over them
- physical assault such as biting, spitting, scratching, pushing, shoving, tripping and grabbing
- extreme acts of violence and aggression such as hitting, punching, strangulation, kicking, personal threats, threats with weapons, sexual assault.
None of these are ok. Being exposed to these incidents repetitively can have a cumulative and significant ongoing effect on wellbeing.
- Information for healthcare workers
As a healthcare worker your focus should be on assisting those in need.
You should never feel that violence and aggression is 'part of the job' even when it's committed by people whose clinical condition may be affecting their judgement.
There are preventative actions that can be taken to reduce the risk of violence and aggression in your workplace. Make sure you know what to do when you witness or experience these behaviours.
Report all incidents of violence and aggression
Incidents of violence and aggression are currently chronically under-reported. No matter what the situation, it's important to report violence and aggression so your employer knows about it and can take steps to better prevent and manage it in the future. Your employer can also provide you and your colleagues with appropriate support.
The process for reporting health and safety incidents can vary between workplaces - talk to your manager today to confirm the reporting process at your site.
If you are affected by occupational violence and aggression, you should seek support from your manager or your workplace Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider.
If you or anyone you know needs help, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
- Information for healthcare management
Prevention and management of violence and aggression requires active engagement from all levels of the organisation.
Violence and aggression should never be seen as 'part of the job' for any healthcare worker, even when it's committed by people whose clinical condition may be affecting their judgement. You can take steps to prevent or minimise an incident.
Organisation leaders and managers can have a powerful influence in developing a positive safety culture where priority is placed on the health, safety, and wellbeing of staff and patients.
As a senior leader you should demonstrate a commitment to promoting a culture where violence and aggression is not accepted as 'part of the job'. Some examples include:
- setting health and safety objectives and accountabilities
- ensuring effective health and safety systems are in place to identify and control risk
- supporting staff development in de-escalation and processes for early intervention and management
- allocating resources to prevention and management
- developing and promoting health and safety policy and key initiatives
- having clear policies and procedures for reporting
- encouraging reporting and acting on these reports
- investigating incidents and reviewing risk control measures
- consulting and supporting employees
- monitoring and reporting on performance outcomes; acting on issues and opportunities, and
- asking questions about violence and aggression prevention systems in your workplace.
As a direct manager, you should:
- identify violence and aggression risks in your work area
- implement controls to eliminate or reduce these risks
- encourage reporting and act on these reports
- investigate incidents and review existing controls
- support staff development in de-escalation and processes for early intervention and management
- allocate resources to prevention and management
- consult and support employees
- promote a culture that does not accept violence and aggression, and
- seek assistance where necessary for you to do your part.
Encourage staff to report incidents of violence and aggression
Staff who have been affected by a violent or aggressive incident in the workplace may feel it's a waste of time reporting incidents because 'nothing will be done'.
It is critical to engage your staff, so they know:
- why they need to report incidents
- the reporting policies and procedures at their workplace
- they will be supported when they report
- what will happen after they report, and the feedback they can expect to receive, and
- their reporting has contributed to positive changes to reduce future risks.
- Information for the community
When we imagine aggressive or violent incidents happening to healthcare workers, we might think 'I would never do that'. But when you or your loved ones are placed in a stressful situation you may act in ways you're not proud of.
Even acts you may consider ''small' like eye rolling, sneering, talking down to or raising your voice at healthcare workers can have a major impact on their mental health. To you, it might be a one-off incident, but they might be treated like this every day.
If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, try to remove yourself from the situation until you can be in a better frame of mind.
If you witness an act of aggression or violence, do not get involved – report it immediately to someone at the healthcare facility, or call the police.
- Useful links
If you or someone you know is struggling with the effects of occupational violence and aggression in their workplace, or you'd like specific advice on how your workplace can better prevent and manage occupational violence and aggression, please consider contacting the following services.
WorkSafe advisory service: 1800 136 089 or (03) 9641 1444
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)
Tools and resources including the Framework for preventing and managing occupational violence and aggression and the Guide for violence and aggression training in Victorian health services can be found on the Department of Health and Human Services website.
Alzheimer's Australia (VIC branch)
Alzheimer''s Australia is the peak body representing people living with dementia, their families and carers. View all of Alzheimer's Australia Vic's dementia education programs, resources and calendar of events online or become a member to receive the latest dementia resources including research, podcasts and access to the Alzheimer's Australia Library.
Phone: 1800 100 500
beyondblue are committed to promoting good mental health and creative change to protect everyone's mental wellbeing, and to help people recover if they become unwell.
Phone: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline is a national charity providing Australians experiencing a personal crisis with access to 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.
Phone: 13 11 14
Download or order campaign materials and communications toolkit
Download campaign and communications materials for use on your website, newsletters, or to display within your organisation.
When you use the 'staff poster' in your tea room, please remember to fill out the 'How to report aggressive and violent behaviour' section.
- Violence and aggression against healthcare workers brochure [PDF, 655kB]
- Case study brochure [PDF, 1.2MB]
- Community and employer posters
- Powerpoint template – to stimulate discussion in your workplace [PPT, 7.5MB]
- Campaign imagery – for use on screen savers, waiting room televisions, website
- Imagery for use on social media
- Email signature [JPG, 12kB]
- eNewsletter articles [WORD, 834, kB]
- WorkSafes' Guidebook: Prevention and management violence and aggression in health services [PDF, 2.5MB]
- DHHS' Organisational framework: Framework for preventing and managing occupational violence and aggression [PDF, 70kB]
- DHHS' Learning principles: Guide for violence and aggression training in Victorian health services [PDF, 125kB]
- Occupational Violence and Aggression (OVA) Incident Investigation Tool [PDF, 60kB]
Order hard-copy campaign materials
If you'd like to order some hard-copy materials for your organisation, please contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please provide your name, organisation, contact details, and the quantity and what you’d like to order from the following:
- Community poster
- Staff poster
- Case study brochure
- Violence and aggression against healthcare workers brochure
- Post-it notes