Workplace violence

Workplace violence can range from low-level verbal abuse to less common, but severe incidents (for example, armed holdups).

The risk of violence should not be seen as part of the job or as something you have to manage yourself.

You can also be at risk of violence from co-workers, supervisors or other staff. This kind of violence should be taken very seriously. It should be reported to senior management as soon as possible. If this is not effective to stop the violence, then it should be reported to WorkCover or the police promptly.

It is your right to be protected from violence at work, and the employer’s responsibility to ensure your health and safety at work. This includes identifying situations in which you may be exposed to the risk of violence and eliminating or controlling this risk. You can help by complying with all the procedures your employer has in place to minimise the risk of violence. You should report any incident with the potential for violence to your supervisor.

Client or customer initiated violence

This occurs when clients or customers, their relatives or friends, display violence against workers or an organisation. Violent acts can include:

  • verbal abuse in person or over the telephone, or written abuse and threats;
  • malicious damage to the property of staff, customers or the business; and
  • intimidation or assault of workers.

This violence may not begin as a critical or extreme situation – it sometimes follows a pattern of escalating behaviour. What may begin with agitation, anger or frustration and intimidation, can lead to verbal/written abuse and threats, and sometimes to serious intimidation, abuse, or assault.

Violence from external sources

This occurs when violence is caused by someone who has no connection to the workplace. It can be:

  • a robbery in the workplace;
  • robbery when employees do the banking, or deliver goods; and
  • bag snatching or assaults near the workplace.

Minimising the Risk of Violence

There are many strategies that can be adopted to protect you and other employees:

Tips for employers for dealing with dissatisfied customers or clients:

  • develop a policy on client aggression;
  • provide training in managing difficult situations; and
  • consider safety in the design of the work environment, eg
    • use duress alarms and duress response
    • have a barrier (such as a counter) between employees and clients.

Tips for providing services to clients with history of violence:

  • develop client assessment procedures;
  • refer difficult clients to a supervisor;
  • monitor client behaviour;
  • always have two or more staff available; and
  • identify safe areas.

Tips for working with cash or valuable goods:

  • always have two or more staff on duty;
  • consider using security staff, external surveillance, or a duress alarm;
  • keep a minimum of cash and high-value stock on hand;
  • when travelling with cash or valuable goods, always travel with at least two people, and try to vary your time and route; and
  • have a robbery policy – if confronted hand over money, don’t resist.

How can you help?

  • Comply with all the procedures to minimise the risk of violence.
  • Report any incident with the potential for violence to your supervisor or boss.
  • Talk to your employer if you think that you or other employees are at risk. Suggest they obtain a free copy of the WorkCover Health and Safety Guide, Violence in the Workplace, which provides information on the employer’s legal obligations and what can be done to minimise the risk of violence.
  • If your employer is unwilling to adopt minimisation strategies contact WorkCover, or your union.