Preventing workplace violence and aggression

Last month Safe Work Australia (SWA) released comprehensive guidance on preventing workplace violence.  This comes after a whopping increase in claims on assaults on staff as a mechanism of injury.  More research needs to be done in this area. There’s probably little doubt that COVID, increasing mental health problems and a decay in organisational leadership, may be contributing factors.

In any case, nothing takes away from the obligation for organisations to protect their staff from violence and aggression, whether the source are customer/clients or even other workers.  Most state based OHS laws are pretty clear that If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks, they must be minimised so far as is reasonably practicable.

Let’s face it though, as an employer – particularly in some industries with a customer service function – it’s very difficult to eliminate risks altogether.  The SWA guide provides good information across a number of industry sectors relating to the common hazards (relating to violence and aggression) and the risk control measures.

As an employer, it’s prudent to do your own assessment of the risks specific to your organisation, location, industry, worker profile and other factors.  Working as a ranger in a local council has different hazards to an aged care worker, or a postal employee.   Depending on the type of work being performed and the identified hazards, the controls (or the “elimination as far as reasonably practical”) will be different.

Gregory Lamey, founder and CEO of the Forensix Group, says that there are a number of more typical control measures that can be applied across the board. “Things like aggressive management training, robbery procedures, emergency response policy and training, code of conduct refreshers, physical protection arrangements and reporting procedures are all important,” he says. “But don’t discount other measures like situational awareness, operational readiness and development in the areas of appreciative enquiry, performance and conduct management and civility in the workplace.”

Employers should “think outside the square” when thinking about ways to protect their staff and minimise risk. “After all, everyone deserves to be safe at work and go home safely to their families,” Lamey notes.  Something as simple as receiving good training on having difficult conversations can be a way to miminise the aggression internally.

Employers need to be vigilant in this area because of its increase. There is never a “one size fits all approach.”

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