Aggression in the workplace - Response

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Immediate response

Individual reactions to aggression in the workplace can continue for a long time after the incident.

If the incident and employees’ reactions are not actively managed, the impact of the incident on the organisation and employees can be more damaging. It is essential that there are procedures to be followed for an effective immediate response that controls and defuses the situation.

When aggression in the workplace occurs, employees should know who has the authority to take charge of the situation. That person should be trained to coordinate the response, including taking care of employees who may be injured, in shock or affected by the incident in other way and removing employees from the work environment if it is unsafe to remain in the workplace. 

The main focus of employee assistance is to provide immediate medical assistance or first-aid and psychological support. General arrangements, such as allocating a safe place to retreat to, controlling media access to employees, providing communication with families and arranging transport home are also important to relieve the immediate pressure on employees. Where possible, arrange for someone to stay with the affected employees until other support is available. 

Employees directly and indirectly involved in the incident may benefit from critical incident debriefing. The debriefing process may help those involved to cope with the event and access on-going appropriate support. This service may be available through an Employee Assistance Provider or provided by suitably qualified professionals such as Psychologists. While support services should be available to people who are affected by aggression in the workplace, people vary in the way they react to certain situations and may not require these services.

Physical assault or the threat of physical harm of any form is a criminal act. If a criminal act has been committed, the appropriate response is a direct complaint to the police.

Investigate incidents

The incident should be reported using your workplace’s reporting procedures as soon as possible after the incident.  All incidents of aggression in the workplace need to be investigated in a timely manner. The investigation should identify all the factors that contributed to the incident occurring. An investigation will assist in preventing future incidents occurring again and improve responses to future incidents. Investigations should not be about finding someone to blame, rather looking for ways to prevent the incident from occurring again.  

Injury management and support

Workplace rehabilitation and injury management may be required for physical or psychological illness or injury following an incident of aggression in the workplace. The appropriate Injury Management / Rehabilitation Coordinator within your workplace must be consulted immediately if an injury has possibly been sustained. The Injury Management / Rehabilitation Coordinator will assist with the rehabilitation process and with lodgement of a Workers’ Compensation claim as needed.

Ideally, managers should continue to follow up with employees after the aggression in the workplace incident to ensure their safety and health, and provide support. Additional counselling may be required on an on-going basis for some person/s involved in the aggression in the workplace incident. Managers involved in supporting and helping other employees may also benefit from counselling for debriefing and support. 

Early intervention is the key to supporting employees who may be experience difficulty coping following an aggressive incident in the workplace. Early intervention means assisting an employee before a symptom develops into an injury.

Seven key elements to early intervention for preventing psychological injury 

  1. Develop procedures for early intervention on how to support employees exhibiting early warning signs. The policy or guidelines should state that support is provided regardless of whether the employee has submitted a worker’s compensation claim, or whether their claim has been accepted. 
  2. Providing training and information to line managers on the early warning signs, and how to respond appropriately. 
  3. Ensure early contact is made with the employee to offer assistance. 
  4. Engage early and expert assessment to identify employee needs. 
  5. Ensure employee and supervisor are involved in developing an agreed plan to enable the employee to remain at work or return to work. 
  6. Employee to access to effective medical treatment and evidence-based therapeutic interventions if there is a psychological condition. 
  7. Provide flexible workplace solutions to support the individual at work.

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