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Workplace Violence - Creating a Safe Work Environment

Workplace Violence - Creating a Safe Work Environment

Aug 19th 2022

Workplace Violence - Creating a Safe Work Environment

Nobody likes to think about aggression and violence in the workplace. However, it's an important issue to be aware of, especially given the potential for serious health and safety consequences. While most people think of violence as physical aggression, it can also be psychological, such as harassment or intimidation.

Unfortunately, aggression and violence in the workplace are all too common. A recent study found that nearly one in four workers have experienced some form of aggression or violence at work in the past year. This disturbing trend can lead to lost productivity, increased stress levels, and even physical injury.

Harm does not just occur from physical assault such as hitting, kicking, pushing, grabbing or throwing objects at a person. Verbal threats and abuse, yelling, swearing, discrimination or confronting initiation practices for the new or young worker can also cause serious psychological harm.

Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws cover workplace violence and aggression.

When many people think of Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws, they might think of the common Safety' aspects like management of slips, trips and falls or working on ladders. Still, workplace violence hazards are also captured in the WHS regulations as workplace health includes both the physical and psychological health of people.

Under occupational safety laws, employers have a duty of care to ensure their employees' health and safety, including protecting them from psychological and physical harm.

If you are an employer, it is important that you are aware of your obligations under WHS laws and take steps to prevent and manage workplace violence and aggression. If you are a worker, you should know that you have a right to be safe at work and report any violence or aggression incidents from co-workers and others.

Workplace Health

Psychosocial hazards can have a range of negative consequences for workers, including psychological and physical harm. In many cases, psychosocial hazards can lead to work-related psychological injuries, which often have longer recovery times than other types of injuries.

What are Psychosocial Hazards?

Psychosocial hazards are risks that arise from the interaction between people and their work environment. These hazards can result in psychological or physical harm to workers and cause work-related psychological injuries. Psychosocial hazards can include factors such as job stress, bullying, and violence.

Additionally, managing the risks associated with psychosocial hazards can help decrease the disruption caused by staff turnover and absenteeism, improving overall organisational performance and productivity. By identifying and mitigating psychosocial hazards in the workplace, employers can create a safer and more supportive environment for their employees.

Employee sitting at desk stressed & overwhelmed

What are the highest risk industries?

Four high-risk industries identified by Safe Work Australia of higher risk are:

  1. Health care and social assistance – this includes nurses, doctors, paramedics, allied health workers, residential and home carers
  2. Public administration and safety – such as police officers, protective service officers, security officers, correctional officers and welfare support workers
  3. Retail and hospitality – including workers at grocery outlets, convenience stores and pharmacies where cash handling is undertaken, and employees may need to enter parking lots.
  4. Education and training – including teachers and teachers' aides.

Risk factors

There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of workplace violence occurring.

Personal risk factors are those that relate to the individual, such as their personality, mental health or previous history of violence. Situational risk factors are those that relate to the environment, such as the type of work being done or the location of the work. Organisational risk factors relate to the workplace, such as the culture, policies or procedures.

Types of Violence and Aggression in the Workplace

Violent and aggressive behaviours are present when people are threatened, attacked or physically assaulted at work, and those actions or incidents physically or psychologically harm another person.

Other forms of violence can be intentionally coughing or spitting on someone, harassment, stalking or aggressive behaviour, indecent physical contact or any other form that creates a fear of violence.

These behaviours can generally be divided into four groups.

1. Criminal behaviour.

In this kind of violent incident, the offender has no legitimate relationship with the business or its employees. E.g. Robberies

2. Public/Client incidents.

Multiple cases of violence and aggressive behaviours can occur here. Unhappy customers or the general public can display aggressive behaviours, but violence from clients or those in our charge is far more widespread. Think health care workers or correctional officers.

3. Workplace aggression.

This is violence or the threat of violence from a co-worker. It can be motivated by a range of factors, including job insecurity, dissatisfaction with working conditions, or personal problems. Unfortunately, this conflict can sometimes escalate to aggressive and violent behaviour. Bullying is one typical behaviour that occurs between workers and is actively addressed now in modern WHS laws.

4. Domestic incidents.

Violence that occurs in the home and spills over into the workplace. This might be caused by partners harassing people at work or people working from home exposed to domestic violence from a family member, close relatives and others.

The above four categories are not exhaustive but cover most workplace violence incidents.

It's important to remember that workplace violence can happen to anyone, regardless of occupation, gender, race or ethnicity. The key to preventing workplace violence is to have a good understanding of the risks and to implement effective control measures.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse at work is a serious problem that can have a negative impact on employees' mental and physical health. Verbal abuse can take many forms, such as yelling, cursing, and making threats. It often occurs when employees are trying to perform their jobs, and it can be very disruptive and demoralising.

Verbal abuse can affect employees in a number of ways. It can make them feel anxious and stressed, and it can lead to physical health problems such as headaches and nausea. It can also cause people to lose confidence in their abilities and lead to depression and other mental health issues.

There are several things that can be done to control or stop verbal abuse at work. Employers can create policies prohibiting verbal abuse, and they can provide training on how to identify and deal with verbal abuse. Employees can also speak up when they experience or witness verbal abuse and should be able to seek help from their supervisor or HR department if needed. Early intervention is a good control measure for threatening behaviour.

Physical assault

Physical assaults and workplace intimidating behaviours are serious problems with long-lasting physical and psychological impacts. Victims of workplace assault often suffer from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. They may also have difficulty sleeping, eating, and concentrating. In addition to the mental health effects, workplace assault can also lead to physical injuries, including bruises, cuts, and broken bones.

Employers are responsible for creating a safe workplace environment, and employees have a right to feel safe at work. A zero tolerance policy needs to be in place for violent incidents. When employers fail to prevent workplace assault, they not only put their employees at risk, but also expose themselves to potential legal liability.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment and physical assaults at work are serious issues that often go unreported. Many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about what happened to them or may not know who to contact for help.

Sexual assault can occur in any workplace, but it is more common in environments where there is a lot of contact between employees, such as in restaurants, hospitals or factories. It can also occur between people of different ranks, such as supervisors and subordinates.

Sexual harassment and assault can seriously impact the victim's mental health. Victims may feel anxious, depressed or even suicidal. They may also have trouble sleeping or eating, and they may lose interest in hobbies or activities they used to enjoy.


Workplace bullying is a serious problem that can have physical and physiological consequences for employees. Employers need to have policies and procedures in place to deal with bullying behaviour and to support employees who may be affected by it.

There are a number of ways in which workplace bullying can occur. It may be direct, such as intimidating behaviour, or indirect, such as withholding information or resources necessary for work. Bullying can also be verbal, physical, or psychological and are legitimate workplace hazards.

Bullying at work can have many negative consequences for employees. These include stress, anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and reduced job satisfaction. In some cases, bullying can also lead to physical health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.

There are a number of things that employers can do to manage the risk of bullying in the workplace, including:

  • Establishing clear policies and procedures on bullying and harassment.
  • Providing training for managers and employees on what constitutes bullying and how to deal with it.
  • Encouraging employees to speak up if they feel they are being bullied.
  • Investigating any reports of bullying promptly and taking appropriate action.

Workplace Bullying

Are you managing violence and aggression at the workplace?

Any business owner or manager knows that a well-run workplace is crucial to the company's success. Not only does it promote efficiency and productivity, but it also helps to create a positive environment for employees. Unfortunately, workplaces can also be hotbeds of conflict, with violence and aggression often lurking just below the surface.

The key to preventing violence is management commitment and implementing control measures. By creating and enforcing clear policies against violence and aggression, managers can send a strong message that such violent behaviour will not be tolerated.

Implementing the following measures will go a long way in preventing aggressive and violent behaviours in the workplace:

1. Implement policies and procedures

One of the most important things an employer can do to prevent violent situations is to have clear safety policies and procedures in place. These should outline what is considered unacceptable behaviour and the consequences for anyone who breaks the rules.

2. Provide training

All employees must be aware of the policies and procedures in place to prevent workplace violence. They should also be trained to recognise early warning signs of aggression and intimidating behaviour and what to do if they feel threatened.

3. Conduct risk assessments

Conducting a risk assessment can help to identify any potential risks or vulnerabilities in the workplace. This information can then be used to make changes to work systems or rules to help reduce the risk of violence occurring.

4. Promote a healthy workplace culture

A positive and respectful workplace culture can go a long way in preventing aggression and violence. Encouraging open communication and discouraging intimidating behaviour can create a more positive environment for everyone.

5. Be prepared to respond

If, despite all of the preventative measures, workplace violence does occur, it's important to have a plan in place for how to deal with it. This could include evacuating the area, calling the police, and providing first aid or social services.

By taking these steps, employers can support staff to create a safer workplace for everyone.

Help manage violent situations with Safety policies from SafetyDocs!

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Author - Craig Cruickshank is the HSEQ Advisor and Senior Technical Writer at SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture.

Craig comes from a construction and environmental background, with experience in both the private and public sectors and is passionate about making health and safety information easy to find and understand for everyone.

Learn more about Craig's work on LinkedIn

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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