Responding to work-related violence

This guidance may help employers respond to workplace 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.

Have systems in place

Responses to work-related violence will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. Systems should be in place that document what to do at the time of, and immediately after, an incident.

Managing incidents

A response system should address immediate safety issues, medical treatment, internal reporting and notifications required by external agencies such as police, fire, ambulance and WorkSafe Victoria.

Employers must consult with employees and any health and safety representatives (HSRs) when developing incident management policies and procedures.

Policies and procedures for work-related violence should include:

  • emergency and evacuation plans
    • reporting procedures and incident investigation
      • guidelines on when to call the police
        • guidelines on when to call ambulance services
          • sanctions and actions against perpetrators, for example, referral for clinical review
            • testing and maintenance of communication and duress equipment
              • regular emergency drills
                • employee supervision and monitoring
                  • assessing the need for immediate emotional support as well as a plan for ongoing support

                    Workplace information and training should support incident-response policies and procedures to ensure employees are familiar with them. To ensure an appropriate response, trained and experienced employees should be rostered for high-risk shifts or in high-risk areas.

                    Require and encourage reporting

                    Encourage reporting by:

                    • developing and implementing policies and procedures requiring reporting of all incidents
                      • acting on reports as soon as possible
                        • having a consistent and effective response to reports
                          • line supervisors acting appropriately when a report is made
                            • regularly providing information to HSRs, employees and the health and safety committee on incidents and actions taken after incidents and including them in the investigation of incidents, near misses and review of controls

                              During an incident

                              Employees can take a range of actions during an incident. Where appropriate, actions include:

                              • setting off duress alarms
                                • calling the police
                                  • implementing internal emergency response processes
                                    • seeking support from other employees
                                      • asking the aggressor to leave, using calm verbal and nonverbal communication
                                        • retreating to a safe location

                                          Refer physical assault, robbery, sexual assault and threats to harm someone to the police.

                                          A workplace incident investigation should still occur when a matter has been referred to police. A workplace investigation will assess whether risk control measures are effective and whether the response procedures worked.

                                          Immediately after an incident

                                          Where appropriate, take the following actions immediately after an incident to minimise injury to employees:

                                          • ensure everyone is safe
                                            • provide first aid or medical attention or refer to an employee assistance program where necessary
                                              • notify WorkSafe Victoria if required
                                                • in the event of a notifiable incident, ensure the incident site is preserved in line with the requirements of section 39 of the OHS Act

                                                  Incident investigation

                                                  Investigating incidents will help prevent similar incidents happening again and will help with responses to future incidents. Investigators should be impartial and have appropriate knowledge and experience in occupational health and safety (OHS) issues.

                                                  The type of investigation depends on the type of incident. Physical assault, robbery, sexual assault and threats to harm someone should be referred to police for criminal investigation before being investigated internally for OHS implications.

                                                  The main reason for an investigation is to prevent future incidents. The investigation should lead to improved prevention measures and response processes.

                                                  Look for causes, not blame. Systems fail for many reasons and the people involved are usually not the cause of the incident. 

                                                  Investigation principles

                                                  Collect information

                                                  Find out what happened, where it happened, for example, the physical location and environment, and any other relevant details. Do this by conducting interviews and reviewing written reports, client histories, training records, police reports, workplace plans and before-and-after photographs.

                                                  Look for causes

                                                  Find out possible explanations for the incident, how it happened and whether response systems worked or failed. Consider all aspects of the incident, including the environment, equipment, people and responses, systems of work, workplaces, training, information etc.

                                                  Review risk control measures

                                                  Ask whether the risk control measures worked as intended and consider, if necessary, how they could provide better protection to employees, clients and visitors. Identify and implement new control measures where necessary.

                                                  Investigation outcomes

                                                  Document and communicate the results of an investigation to all relevant parties, such as senior management, HSRs, the health and safety committee and affected employees. The investigation report should outline what happened, what has been done, what will be done and when.