When did the risk of work-related violence become so high? How do we prepare for it to avoid incidents, and even large fines?
The rate of violent crime in Australia, and indeed the world, is increasing at a frightening rate. Stories of violence on our streets and in our homes are confronting us in news headlines daily. As might be expected, this violence has seeped into our workplaces too, with workers being abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This violence can come from colleagues or visitors to the workplace, such as clients or in the case of ambulance and hospital workers, friends or relatives of the patient in your care.
Queensland Healthcare Workers experiencing work-related violence
In fact, the level of violence in the workplace for healthcare workers has risen to epidemic levels in Queensland, with more than 3300 healthcare workers physically assaulted in 2015. Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Cameron Dick has just launched a new $1.35 million public awareness campaign addressing this very issue.
“When most Queenslanders go to work they don’t have to factor in being assaulted as part of their day,” he said. ‘‘Sadly, being punched, bitten, slapped, kicked and even spat on is a reality for healthcare workers.”
Part of the campaign includes a series of powerful short videos, highlighting the risks of work-related violence for healthcare workers plus the fact that any person found guilty of assaulting a healthcare worker can receive up to 14 years in prison.
I applaud the government’s decision to address this risk and recommend you watch the videos, available at https://www.youtube.com/user/HealthierQueensland.
(Warning that they contain graphic imagery and may be distressing to some viewers.)
All business types can experience work-related violence
At the same time, it’s not just healthcare workers facing work-related violence. While it is difficult to report the exact number of work-related violence in Australia due to a lack of uniform and solid national statistics, an analysis of successful workers’ compensation claims during 2008–2011 give us an indication. 21% of mental stress claims in this period resulted from exposure to work-related violence, including being a victim of or a witness to the violence.
And this has implications for employers too; Courts are taking a strong view on a PCBU’s primary duty of care with regards to work-related violence, and employers have faced large fines when their employers or contractors have been affected by violence in the workplace. In Inspector Bestre v Tempo Services Ltd; Inspector Bestre v Jontari Pty Ltd (2005), a company which provided cleaning services to a school was prosecuted for failing to provide a safe system of work after an intruder assaulted a cleaner early one morning. Despite the company’s claims that the event was unforeseeable, the court did not agree and fined them $70,000 due to breaches of s 8(2) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 (NSW). This was based upon the court’s view that the risk of assault was foreseeable, and the employer could have reduced the risks of working alone through measures such as:
- carrying out an adequate risk assessment of working alone at the school;
- providing a personal alarm;
- adopting a system of team cleaning;
- rescheduling work so that it was performed while others were around; and
- instructing cleaners to lock doors while cleaning.
The above is just one example. Businesses offering products and services anywhere from pubs and eateries through to industrial sites and office buildings all face their own risks when it comes to work-related violence. Not only are we potentially at risk from outside sources, many of our workers are stressed out and under pressure at both work and home, which can sometimes result in violent outbreaks in a work environment.
Mitigating your risk of work-related violence
Taking key steps to identify and mitigate risk is essential, and perhaps easier than it sounds. If you don’t employ an in-house specialist safety, there are several professionals in the marketplace who can assist. For smaller businesses in particular, this might seem like a costly and unnecessary exercise, citing “This won’t happen to me”. Sadly, the time for naivety is long gone, and the potential costs of ignoring the risks considerably outweigh the cost of preparing for them–protecting both your workers and your bottom line, at the same time.
— Amy Towers, Principal Consultant
Amy Towers is a risk expert with more than 10 years of experience working as a health and safety specialist and consultant. Since receiving her BAppSc in Occupational Health and Safety from RMIT in 2002, she has provided health and safety advice and solutions to clients across a variety of industries, including manufacturing, construction, warehousing, healthcare and retail. She has also assisted senior corporate executives for large corporations. In 2014, Amy founded Safe Work Consulting, now Risk Collective, a risk management firm specialising in workplace health and safety. It offers clients exceptional professional service in end-to-end safety management systems that are simple and sustainable.
We are always happy to hear your questions or have a chat about how we could work together on your work health and safety, training, induction, and what your PCBU duties are. Amy is available as a Safety Consultant for businesses in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. Please contact us if you would like a confidential chat or consultation.