Violence and aggression

Develop and implement strategies to protect employees.


Step 1: Learn about work-related violence

What is work-related violence?

Work-related violence involves incidents in which a person is abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. Experiencing or being exposed to work-related violence can cause both physical harm and psychological harm from fear and distress. While multiple exposures to violence can result in a risk of trauma, a single exposure to violence also poses a risk of trauma.

Work-related violence can occur anywhere that people work with others like colleagues or management, or with people outside your workplace like customers, patients, and members of the public.

Some examples of work-related violence include:

  • aggressive gestures or expressions
  • verbal abuse
  • intimidating physical behaviour
  • physical assault
  • online harassment, threats or abuse

Key stats and facts

What are your rights and responsibilities at work?

Employers must provide and maintain a workplace that is safe and free from risks to health, including psychological health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employees have a responsibility to take reasonable care of their own health and safety in the workplace, and the health and safety of others. They must also cooperate with employers to create a safe environment.

Step 2: Consult your employees

Consultation can be done in a number of ways. Depending on your workplace, it can be as simple as casually walking around your workplace having a conversation, or as formal as setting up a health and safety committee.

Good consultation has lots of benefits – it leads to better decision making and greater cooperation and trust between employers and employees, who get a better understanding of each other's views.

Consultation isn't just good practice though, it's actually a legal requirement for employers. Employers must consult with employees, including health and safety representatives (if any), so far as is reasonably practicable, when identifying or assessing matters that do, or are likely to directly affect their health and safety. This includes identifying whether work-related violence may be a hazard at the workplace, and working out how to eliminate or reduce the risk of it occurring. At a minimum, it must involve sharing information about the issue, giving reasonable opportunity to employees to share their views on that issue, and taking those views into consideration.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities, as well as how to consult

Step 3: Identify hazards and risks

A hazard is anything that has the potential to cause harm to a person. Think of hazards like 'situations' or 'things' in the workplace that can hurt someone, either physically or mentally. The risk is the potential of the harm actually happening.

For example, a cable on the floor is a physical hazard. The risk is being physically injured from tripping on that cable. The same applies to hazards that affect our mental health – these are known as psychosocial hazards.

Work-related violence is an example of a psychosocial hazard. Exposure to work-related violence can increase the risk to psychological and physical health. When risks associated with exposure to work-related violence are not effectively managed, this may lead to or exacerbate psychological and/or physical injuries.

Examples of work-related violence include

  • aggressive gestures or expressions such as eye rolling and sneering
  • verbal abuse such as yelling, swearing, threats and name calling
  • intimidating physical behaviour such as standing in someone's personal space or standing over them
  • physical assault such as biting, spitting, scratching, or even more extreme acts such as hitting, kicking and threats with weapons
  • robbery

Often multiple hazards can be present at the same time and can combine to increase the risk of harm occurring. For example, exposure to work-related violence, high job demands, remote or isolated work, and poor support from colleagues or supervisors can combine to increase the risk of harm.

Work situations that have greater risks of work-related violence include

  • Employees who handle cash, drugs or valuables.
  • Employees who work alone or in isolation or at night.
  • Employees who work in the community or directly with the public, such as – visiting homes, driving passenger public transport, outreach work.
  • Employees who interact directly with other members of the public, patients, clients and consumers.
  • Employees who provide services or treatment to people with potentially unpredictable behaviour, and interactions with their families.

When you understand the risk factors, you can find ways to prevent or reduce the risk of work-related violence, before it occurs.

Step 4: Assess the risks

A risk assessment will help you understand the risks to your employees' health and safety, and how to prioritise your efforts to manage them.

It is good practice to identify hazards, either individually or together, which are creating risks to health and safety. Once you have identified the hazards, you can assess the risk of them occurring.

Risk assessment tips

Step 5: Control the risks

A control simply means 'ways to manage' an issue. Controls are things you put in place to eliminate or reduce risks. The list could be endless, but it's really just about taking action, so far as reasonably practicable, to manage the risks associated with work-related violence. Typically, effective control of work-related violence involves multiple risk controls.

Here are some ways that employers can take action (or 'implement a control') to create a safe workplace.

Remember to measure the effectiveness of existing controls to see if they're working and if not look for new ways to control the risks.

Step 6: Share, review and improve

A safe and mentally healthy workplace needs ongoing commitment and engagement.

If you have a work-related violence policy, aim to review it every year or when new information about work-related violence becomes available. You want to check whether the controls you’ve implemented are still relevant and effective.

By sharing the outcomes of these reviews, as well as suggestions and recommendations for improvements, you can keep the conversation going. This will continue to build trust and cooperation between you and your employees. Consultation must be undertaken before making any changes to, the workplace, things used at the workplace, or the conduct of work at the workplace, which may affect employee health and safety, and these changes should be communicated to your employees.

Here's an idea! Set a calendar appointment now to review your policy in 12 months.

More resources

Need help or advice about an issue?

WorkSafe's advisory service is available between 7:30am and 6:30pm Monday to Friday. If you need more support, you can also contact WorkSafe using the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) or the National Relay Service.

1800 136 089 More contact options

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.