Managing the risk of work-related violence

This guidance can help employers manage the risk of work-related violence.

Definition of work-related violence

Work-related violence involves incidents 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 the health and safety of employees. It includes behaviour sometimes described as acting out, challenging behaviour and behaviours of concern.

How to manage the risks of work-related violence

Managing the risks of work-related violence is a planned, systematic process. It involves a series of steps:

  1. Step 1: Identifying hazards

    Identifying hazards to find out what could cause harm to employees.

The importance of consultation

Employers must consult with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) about health and safety matters that directly affect or are likely to directly affect employees.

Drawing on the experience, knowledge and ideas of employees is more likely to result in the identification of hazards and the selection of effective risk control measures.

The points at which consultation must occur include when:

  • the organisation is identifying and assessing work-related violence hazards and risks in the workplace
    • making decisions about measures to control risks of work-related violence
      • making decisions about the adequacy of the facilities for the welfare of employees
        • making decisions about procedures for resolving health or safety issues, consulting with employees, monitoring the health of employees or providing information and training to employees
          • proposing changes that may affect the health and safety of employees such as changes to the conduct of the work performed at the workplace

            Consultation should also occur:

            • when there are reports or indications of work-related violence affecting the health and safety of employees
              • after an incident, 'near miss' or injury

                What does consultation involve?

                Consultation should involve:

                • sharing information with employees and HSRs about anything that could affect workplace health and safety. Information must be timely and in a form understood by employees, including in other languages where appropriate
                  • giving employees a reasonable opportunity to express their views. Encourage employees to play a part in the problem-solving process
                    • taking those views into account. Employees should help to shape decisions, not hear about them after decisions are made

                      Identifying hazards and assessing risks

                      Work-related violence hazards may arise from a combination of the:

                      • work environment
                        • work tasks and how they are carried out
                          • way work is designed and managed
                            • engagements between employees and clients or members of the public
                              • engagements between employees

                                Typical hazards

                                Typical hazards that give rise to work-related violence include:

                                • face-to-face interactions between members of the public and employees
                                  • handling cash, drugs or valuables
                                    • working alone, working in isolation and working in the community, for example, home visits, outreach work, driving passenger transport vehicles and working at night
                                      • providing services or treatment to people with potentially unpredictable behavior, such as those who are distressed, angry, intoxicated, incarcerated, confused, afraid or ill
                                        • enforcement activities, for example, community law enforcement work and security work

                                          Under-reported

                                          When identifying and assessing the risk of work-related violence it is important to recognise that work-related violence is under-reported, particularly in occupations where incidents occur on a regular basis.

                                          Factors that can deter employees from reporting work-related violence include:

                                          • reporting is time-consuming and complicated
                                            • once an event is over, employees just want to forget about it
                                              • beliefs that violence is just 'part of the job' so nothing can be done about it
                                                • workplace culture of 'just getting on with it' or discouragement of reporting
                                                  • lack of understanding or definition of what is and isn't reportable
                                                    • thinking or knowing that nothing will happen if a report is made
                                                      • employees believe they will be blamed for the incident
                                                        • incidents are so common that only serious ones are reported

                                                          Employers should take steps to address these factors and actively encourage employees to report all incidents without fear of reprisal, discrimination or disadvantage to their role or career.

                                                          Consult employees

                                                          When hazards are identified, employers must consult with affected employees, those likely to be affected and any HSRs about how to control risks associated with the hazards. This includes risks associated with work-related violence. To help identify if work-related violence is a hazard:

                                                          • review hazard and incident reports
                                                            • consult with employees and HSRs
                                                              • walk through and inspect the workplace
                                                                • gather information from customers, clients and organisations representing employees

                                                                  Questions to ask

                                                                  To determine the likelihood that work-related violence will harm someone, ask the following questions:

                                                                  • What is the likelihood of the hazard or risk concerned eventuating?
                                                                    • Has it happened before, either in this workplace or somewhere else? If it has happened, how often does it happen?
                                                                      • What are the consequences? Will it cause minor or serious injury or death?

                                                                        While assessing risks based on frequency and severity, it is important employers understand the environment their employees work in and prioritise control measures to prevent work-related violence. It is also important not to discount risks that are less likely to occur or only cause minor harm. All identified risks must be acknowledged, monitored and managed to ensure a safe workplace.

                                                                        Use WorkSafe's Work-related violence risk control measures selection tool to identify work-related violence hazards and risk factors in the workplace.

                                                                        Controlling risks

                                                                        There are many ways to control the risk of work-related violence, and some measures are more effective than others. Use the hierarchy of control to select risk control measures on the basis of what is most reliable and provides employees with the highest level of protection. First consider whether it is possible to eliminate the risk, so far as reasonably practicable. If elimination is not reasonably practicable, reduce the risk so far as reasonably practicable. Typically, effective control of work-related violence involves multiple risk controls.

                                                                        The most effective control measures eliminate the hazard and associated risk. For example, eliminate cash handling in a public car park by introducing an electronic payment system.

                                                                        If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazard, minimise the risk by implementing a range of control measures.

                                                                        Use a number of control measures

                                                                        If necessary, use a number of control measures together to reduce the risk of work-related violence in instances where a single control is likely to be ineffective. For example, a bank could use engineering controls, such as anti-jump barriers, CCTV and security measures, together with administrative controls, such as cash-handling procedures. You may need to implement some control measures across the whole organisation, and others only in specific work areas. Make control measures part of the systems of work.

                                                                        Use WorkSafe's risk control measures selection tool to select measures to control hazards and risk factors. The selection tool includes the following risk control measures:

                                                                        Physical work environment and security risk control measures

                                                                        The physical environment can affect the likelihood of violent incidents occurring and the ease with which people can respond to those incidents. The following control measures are the most reliable and are likely to provide the highest protection for employees. Multiple measures that may provide the most effective control include:

                                                                        • where possible, separating employees from the public, for example:
                                                                          • by outsourcing delivery of products to customers to suitably resourced providers
                                                                          • by contacting clients via phone rather than in person, where possible
                                                                          • with protective barriers or screens, secure employee areas and facilities, safe rooms etc
                                                                        • installing safety glass in high-risk areas, for example, laminated, toughened glass or Perspex, including in picture frames and mirrors
                                                                          • designing ambient conditions to lower arousal and reduce stress
                                                                            • where possible, eliminating the need for employees to work alone, at night or in close proximity to the public or clients
                                                                              • appropriately controlling access to the premises and vulnerable areas
                                                                                • ensuring no public access to the premises when people work alone or at night
                                                                                  • ensuring communication, duress and alarm systems are in place, regularly maintained and tested and that all employees are trained regularly in the system's operation
                                                                                    • ensuring employees can see who is coming into the premises and can restrict access when necessary
                                                                                      • installing sufficient internal and external lighting or mirrors to provide increased visibility indoors and onto the street
                                                                                        • ensuring other features provide visibility, such as transparent panelling for doors and windows
                                                                                          • ensuring cash, valuables and drugs are stored securely
                                                                                            • developing and implementing cash-handling procedures, for example, electronic funds transfer only, locked drop safes, carry small amounts of cash, vary banking times, display 'limited cash held' signs
                                                                                              • where possible, limiting the amount of cash, valuables and drugs on the premises
                                                                                                • ensuring there is no access to dangerous implements or objects that could be thrown or used to injure someone
                                                                                                  • ensuring employees have a safe place to retreat to and to escort others to and are trained in the procedure to do this safely
                                                                                                    • arranging furniture and partitions so movement is not restricted and there is good visibility of all service areas
                                                                                                      • restricting access to furniture and items that could be used as weapons, for example, by bolting down furniture
                                                                                                        • ensuring the size and layout of rooms facilitate safe practices, for example, rooms large enough to enable more employees to attend to patients or clients at once, where appropriate
                                                                                                          • installing appropriate signs to direct clients and visitors
                                                                                                            • providing security measures, for example, CCTV, anti-jump screens, timer safes
                                                                                                              • ensuring the building is secure, maintained and fit for purpose

                                                                                                                Work system risk control measures

                                                                                                                Work systems and procedures are administrative controls and should be part of the overall work-related violence prevention strategy. Work systems and procedures are insufficient on their own to reduce the risk of violence and should be used with physical work environment and security control measures.

                                                                                                                Work system examples

                                                                                                                Examples of work systems include:

                                                                                                                • procedures for working in isolation and in uncontrolled environments. A risk assessment should be carried out to determine the minimum number of employees that should be rostered to shifts at high risk places or during high risk times
                                                                                                                  • policy statements to communicate an employer's position on work-related violence, discourage violence and set expectations about incident management. You'll find suggested content for a violence prevention policy on this page
                                                                                                                    • responsible service of alcohol policy and practices
                                                                                                                      • procedures for opening and closing the business
                                                                                                                        • monitoring employees when working in the community or away from the workplace, for example, a supervisor checks in regularly throughout the shift
                                                                                                                          • a system to map and record areas of concern for safe access and exit
                                                                                                                            • ensuring regular handover of information occurs, for example, with employees, other agencies, carers and service providers
                                                                                                                              • processes to assess client compatibility and suitability
                                                                                                                                • evaluation of work practices to determine whether they contribute to violence
                                                                                                                                  • identifying behaviours and their triggers and implementing strategies to address those triggers and behaviours
                                                                                                                                    • having an identification system in place, for example, employees and authorised visitors are clearly identified
                                                                                                                                      • understanding client condition/disability/triggers/care and behaviour management plans
                                                                                                                                        • reviewing behaviour and treatment programs after incidents or changes in behaviour
                                                                                                                                          • a process in place to note, report and monitor client violence
                                                                                                                                            • where a client is known to have a history of violence, a management plan is in place that has been developed in consultation with appropriately qualified people
                                                                                                                                              • policy on the ongoing treatment of clients known to be violent or abusive, such as treatment contracts

                                                                                                                                                Training, instruction and information

                                                                                                                                                Use training, instruction and information to support the overall approach to work-related violence prevention but do not use them as the main or only ways to control the risk of work-related violence.

                                                                                                                                                Provide training, instruction and information in:

                                                                                                                                                • violence prevention measures, for example, as part of the induction training package before employees start work
                                                                                                                                                  • workplace policy and procedures, including emergency response
                                                                                                                                                    • de-escalating violence, for example, identifying signs of violence, verbal and non-verbal communication strategies, encouraging reasoning, listening carefully, acknowledging concerns
                                                                                                                                                      • situational risk assessment, for example, when visiting homes or working off-site
                                                                                                                                                        • positive behaviour strategies and managing behaviours of concern
                                                                                                                                                          • communication, interpersonal skills and negotiation

                                                                                                                                                            Studies suggest that self-defence or breakaway training is not effective for preventing work-related violence. These approaches may reduce the risk if contact cannot be eliminated.

                                                                                                                                                            Reviewing risk control measures

                                                                                                                                                            Reviews help employers check that risk control measures are working and may also identify possible improvements to their effectiveness through changes to the physical environment, new work procedures and additional training.

                                                                                                                                                            A review of risk control measures can include an examination of the physical environment, work functions and tasks.

                                                                                                                                                            A review of risk control measures should occur:

                                                                                                                                                            • at a regular time, for example, annually
                                                                                                                                                              • when employee or HSR feedback indicates risk control measures are ineffective or not as effective as they should be
                                                                                                                                                                • when an HSR or health and safety committee requests a review
                                                                                                                                                                  • when there have been significant changes in the work environment or work tasks
                                                                                                                                                                    • after an incident or near miss

                                                                                                                                                                      Successfully implementing risk controls

                                                                                                                                                                      Implementing effective risk controls and ensuring they work as intended is not always straightforward. Although an employer's proposed actions or changes may be appropriate and even necessary, they may require others to change how they do their work, how they work with others and may challenge some fundamental assumptions about what is the 'right' way to work. For example, some people may find it difficult to support risk controls that protect employees if they are concerned about how the controls affect the public.

                                                                                                                                                                      It is important to consider how to bring about necessary change. If the change is large or disruptive enough, employers should engage all their stakeholders and make a plan for change. Consider the following areas when planning your approach:

                                                                                                                                                                      Organisational commitment

                                                                                                                                                                      Senior management commitment is critical to the success of any significant organisational plan. Senior leaders should be visible and active in promoting changes they support. Gaining employee commitment through frequent and open communication is also necessary to successfully change employee attitudes and behaviour. You may want to consider:

                                                                                                                                                                      • developing a stakeholder map so you understand all your stakeholders and their needs. For example, employees in clinical roles may have different needs from those in administrative roles
                                                                                                                                                                        • conducting an impact analysis to see which groups will be impacted and what the impact will be. Use this information to plan how you help these groups manage change

                                                                                                                                                                          Participation, communication and consultation

                                                                                                                                                                          The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to consult with employees and their HSRs when identifying and controlling risks to health and safety. When managing the risk of occupational violence, input from employees to help identify and address risk factors is crucial. You should already be consulting with employees throughout the risk management process and must continue to do so for implementation. Make sure you consult with all relevant or impacted groups, not just the obvious ones. Consulting with employees may help you to:

                                                                                                                                                                          • understand their experiences, needs, ideas and concerns
                                                                                                                                                                            • encourage them to accept and comply with the risk control measures to be put in place

                                                                                                                                                                              You may also want to consider establishing working groups to support change implementation, steering committees to provide guidance and senior leader involvement.

                                                                                                                                                                              Clear communication at all points before, during and after the change is essential to ensure everyone understands their obligations and rights and knows what they need to do.

                                                                                                                                                                              Effective change management

                                                                                                                                                                              Employers must decide what risk control measures they will use in the workplace to control change management risks that might lead to work-related violence.

                                                                                                                                                                              Planning change management and its communication across a workforce can help control risks and helps employers meet their obligation to ensure they provide a working environment that is safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

                                                                                                                                                                              Control measures should target the work environment and focus on job design and working conditions. Risk control measures should address communication before and during a change process, ensuring effective consultation and participation take place and ensuring job roles are revised should any changes occur. Feedback is critical.

                                                                                                                                                                              Violence prevention policy

                                                                                                                                                                              What to include

                                                                                                                                                                              Employers have an obligation under the OHS Act to consult with employees and any HSRs when making decisions about measures to control risks to health or safety. This obligation includes when making decisions about controls such as a violence prevention policy.

                                                                                                                                                                              A violence prevention policy should be on display in a prominent place in the workplace and should include:

                                                                                                                                                                              1. Purpose statement

                                                                                                                                                                                Outline the purpose of the policy. For example: This workplace policy was developed with the intent of providing a safe and healthy workplace where employees are not subjected to work-related violence. The employer is committed to supporting employees who are exposed to, or have witnessed, work-related violence.