Work-related violence and occupational health and safety laws

This guidance may help employers fulfil their duty to keep employees safe by eliminating and controlling workplace violence and also help them respond to 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.

Complying with duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) it is a legal requirement for employers to provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment for their employees, so far as reasonably practicable. This includes the physical and psychological environments. This guidance provides information on how employers can implement measures to eliminate or reduce work-related violence, so far as reasonably practicable. It also provides information on how to respond to incidents, including what systems to put in place and how to investigate an incident. This information may help employers comply with their duties under the OHS Act. Health and safety representatives (HSRs) and employees may also find this information helpful.

Psychological health and safety

Managing psychological health and safety in the workplace is an essential part of an occupational health and safety risk management system. Experiencing or being exposed to work-related violence can cause both physical and psychological harm. In addition, working in environments where there is a risk of violence or where violence is anticipated but does not actually occur can negatively affect psychological health. Psychological injury, fear or distress can impair an employee's ability to effectively function. It can also worsen an injury and delay recovery.

It is important for employers to consider how best to support employees returning to work after an incident of work-related violence.

Work-related violence and other psychosocial hazards

Psychosocial hazards are anything in the management or design of work that increases the risk of work-related stress. The risk of work-related stress and other risks to health and safety can increase when work-related violence combines with other psychosocial hazards. For example, an incident of work-related violence might have a cumulative effect on employees who work alone, or those who feel unsupported by their managers might feel more vulnerable.

Common psychosocial hazards include:

  • low job control – for example, little or no say over how work is performed
    • high job demands – work or tasks are excessively challenging
      • low job demands – idle employees or monotonous work
        • poor support – inadequate emotional support from leaders, supervisors or co-workers
          • poor organisational change management – poor communication and management of workplace changes
            • poor organisational justice – inconsistent application of policies across employees
              • low recognition and reward – lack of positive feedback or recognition and reward
                • low role clarity – lack of understanding or guidance about work tasks and expectations or standards
                  • poor workplace relationships – interpersonal conflict, unreasonable or inappropriate behaviour or workplace culture
                    • poor environmental conditions – excessive noise or high temperatures, poor design and layout of workplace or work areas
                      • remote or isolated work – working in regional areas or alone
                        • violent or traumatic events – work-related violence, or criminal activity such as robbery or assault

                          More information about psychosocial hazards is available in WorkSafe's Preventing and managing work-related stress guidance.

                          Employer duties

                          Employers must, so far as reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment for their employees, including independent contractors and the employees of independent contractors. Employers' duties include providing and maintaining systems of work that are, so far as reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

                          In line with their responsibilities, employers must put in place controls to eliminate the risk of work-related violence, so far as reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, employers must reduce the risk as far as reasonably practicable.

                          Employers must provide and maintain safe systems of work, and give employees the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to do their job safely and without risks to health.

                          Employers must also consult with their employees and any HSRs about health and safety issues that may directly affect employees. Consultation about work-related violence must occur when:

                          • identifying or assessing hazards or risks in the workplace
                            • making decisions about measures to prevent and manage work-related violence risks
                              • making decisions about procedures, including procedures for consultation and monitoring and for resolving health and safety issues
                                • making decisions about information and training on work-related violence
                                  • proposing changes to the work environment, equipment or systems of work that may affect the health and safety of employees

                                    Employers must also provide information, instruction, training or supervision to their employees so they can perform their work in a manner that is safe and without risks to health.

                                    Duties of those with workplace management or control

                                    A person who has the management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health. In line with their responsibilities, those with workplace management or control must put in place controls to eliminate the risk of work-related violence, so far as reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, they must reduce the risk as far as reasonably practicable.

                                    Employee duties

                                    Employees must take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace and the health and safety of others who their actions and omissions may affect. Employees must also cooperate with their employer's reasonable directions to comply with the OHS Act or regulations. Regarding work-related violence, employees' responsibility might mean reporting violent incidents or following reasonable employer directives about how to do work to avoid or reduce the risk of exposure to violence.