Aggression in the workplace - Frequently asked questions

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This page contains frequently asked questions on aggression in the workplace.

Is aggression in the workplace a work issue or a police issue?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 contains general duties and responsibilities placed upon people to ensure their own safety at work, and that of others who are at the workplace or who might be injured by the work. These duties extend to the prevention of aggression in the workplace.  

Physical assault or the threat of physical harm of any form is a criminal act. Under these circumstances, the appropriate response is a direct complaint to the police. If a crime is happening or someone is immediate danger, contact emergency services by telephoning 000.

After each aggressive incident preventative measures should be reviewed to work out whether additional controls or changes to existing controls are required.

I have been assaulted at my workplace, what should I do?

Physical assault or the threat of physical harm of any form is a criminal act. Under these circumstances, the appropriate response is a direct complaint to the police. If a crime is happening or someone is immediate danger, contact emergency services by telephoning 000.

Report the incident to your employer as soon as possible, who should take appropriate action to prevent further occurrences. 

Isn’t violence and aggression sometimes just part of the job?

Violence and aggression, in any form, is not acceptable and is not part of the job. Aggression may come from outside or inside the workplace. It may be from members of the public, customers, clients, patients or students, or from supervisors, managers or other employees.  Whatever the circumstances, violence or aggression are unacceptable and should not be tolerated.  

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 contains general duties and responsibilities placed upon people to ensure their own safety at work, and that of others who are at the workplace or who might be injured by the work. These duties extend to the prevention of aggression in the workplace.  

All incidents involving aggression should be reported to the employer, who should take appropriate action to prevent further occurrences.

What can employers do to prevent violence and aggression at work?

There should be an occupational safety and health policy at the workplace that documents the intentions of management and the specific actions to be carried out to ensure safe systems of work that reduce the risk of injury or harm from all workplace hazards, including aggression in the workplace.  

Employers must take appropriate steps to prevent and manage the risk of aggression in the workplace at work.  This can be achieved through the implementation of a Prevention Management Plan, developed by employers in consultation with relevant employees and safety and health representatives. The Prevention Management Plan includes procedures for identifying hazards, assessing risks and applying control measures appropriate for the workplace.

The approach may vary but the following steps should be included in the Prevention Management Plan:

  • Consult with employees and safety and health representatives; 
  • Develop prevention and incident response plans; 
  • Provide information and training; and 
  • Monitor the effectiveness of action taken.

Why reduce the risk of aggression and violence at work? 

Aggression in the workplace in the workplace can be harmful to organisations as well as individuals, resulting in:

  • Reduced efficiency, productivity and profitability;
  • Increased absenteeism;
  • Increased staff turnover;
  • Increased counselling and mediation costs;
  • Increased employees’ compensation claims and insurance premiums; 
  • Medical expenses; and
  • Possible legal action.

The above outcomes all involve a financial cost to organisations and individuals.  Aside from the financial costs, aggression in the workplace also results in personal costs of emotional trauma suffered by victims and their families. 

Even the risk of aggression, threats or assault in a workplace can cause stress and emotional suffering. Both employers and employees benefit from reducing the risk of aggression in the workplace. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Act has duties requiring employers and persons in control of workplaces to provide safe and healthy workplaces so employees and others at the workplace are not exposed to hazards. Employers must consult and cooperate with safety and health representatives and employees about safety and health in the workplace. These laws mean employers must take all practicable measures to reduce the risks of violence at work, as for any other hazard. 

Employees also have a duty under the Act to take reasonable care of the safety and health of themselves and others, cooperate with their employers and comply with safety and health instructions. This includes reporting the potential for aggression so the employer can provide a safe system of work. 

What should I do if there is an armed hold-up? 

Survival is the first rule during an armed hold-up – protect yourself, not money or goods.  It is important that during an armed hold-up you:

  • Stand still; 
  • Obey the robber’s instructions; 
  • Remain calm and quiet; 
  • Observe, if you can do safely; 
  • Stay out of the danger area; and 
  • Stay where you are, do not chase.

When it is safe, call the police, seal off the hold-up area and ask witnesses to remain to help with police enquiries.  

Employees at risk of being involved in an armed hold-up should be trained in self-protection techniques.  

Further information is available in the WorkSafe publication Armed Hold-Ups and Cash Handling: A Guide to Protecting People from Armed Hold-Ups (PDF 87kb).

How can I design my workplace to help reduce the risk?

It is important when designing a building, vehicle or structure, and when planning the layout of a work site, to give consideration to the hazardous situations that have been identified and the measures that may permanently reduce the risk of aggression in the workplace. The design could include features such as:

  • Workplace layout and design
  • Allow for 'escape routes' and avoid dead ends where employees are unable to retreat to a safer place when necessary
  • Bollards outside entry points to the workplace
  • Barriers in vehicles used to transport patients/clients
  • Security doors
  • Permanent screens
  • Security lighting
  • Alarm systems
  • Communication systems. 

Where the workplace is in an existing structure or building, structural changes can be made to add the features described above:

  • Improving security and lighting
  • Redesigning waiting areas to provide comfortable and calming surroundings
  • Providing play corners so children are occupied and quiet 
  • Installing high counters and other barriers
  • Alarms (duress/personal). 

Who is responsible for security lighting?

The responsibility for installing and maintaining security equipment and other building fittings depends on the lease agreement.  The Commercial Tenancy (Retail Shops) Agreements Act 1985 regulates retail and other commercial tenancies.  Further information on who is responsible in a tenancy agreement is available from the Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety:

  • 1300 304 054 (cost of a local call) for new enquiries and general advice 
  • Phone: +61 8 9282 0777 
  • Fax: +61 8 9282 0850 
  • TTY: +61 8 9282 0800 
  • Email: consumer@dmirs.wa.gov.au

What if I have to walk to my car at night?

There is always a risk of aggression for people in public places, including car parks.  If it is not possible to park in a secure area, park close to where you will exit the building, and if possible walk with other people. Although employee safety in public car parks is not legally the responsibility of employers, they can assist by increasing awareness and developing policies to help reduce the risk, for example allowing employees on shifts to finish at the same time so they can walk to their cars in a group or allowing employees to move their vehicles before the sun sets.

The Office of Crime Prevention also provides the following advice:

  • Check the surrounding areas of your car and the back seat before getting in;  
  • ALWAYS lock your doors after getting it in or out of your vehicle;  
  • Drive with the doors locked;  
  • Never pick up hitch-hikers; and  
  • Always have your keys ready before you get to the car. 

 

 

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