Preventing aggression in the workplace

This page is for: 
Employee / workerEmployer

Risk management of aggression in the workplace involves a systematic and planned approach that covers the associated risks to employee safety.  A risk assessment involves identifying the sources of risk, risk factors and the consequences if a worker is exposed to a hazard. 

Hazard identification 

Aggression in the workplace is a potential hazard for most workplaces. Through identifying risk factors in the work environment, a workplace can assess the risk of aggression in the workplace occurring and implement practicable and appropriate controls. 

Identifying risk factors in the workplace involves findings things and situations that may be harmful to employees. Risk factors for aggression in the workplace generally occur through the interaction of:

  • The physical work environment;
  • The work tasks and how they are carried out;
  • The way work is designed and managed. 

Hazard identification may examine the nature and location of the work, types of clients, business operating hours, service and facility access, and staffing levels, skills and experience. 

Hazards and risk factors may be identified through:

  • Reviewing past history of incidents, however no past history of incidents does not mean hazards do not exist;
  • Reviewing injury records;
  • Conducting a walk-through of the workplace;
  • Reviewing the workplace design;
  • Examining client related interactions/services. 

When identifying aggression in the workplace hazards and assessing the risk of aggression at work it is important to recognise that it is known to be under-reported, particularly in occupations where incidents occur on a regular basis. Factors that can deter employees from reporting include:

  • Violence is thought of as ‘part of the job’ so nothing can be done about it
  • Minor incidents are common so workers only report incidents they consider serious
  • Employees think nothing will change if a report is made
  • Employees think they will be blamed for what happened
  • Reporting takes a long time, or is very complex
  • Employees just want to forget about it. 

Conducting an anonymous employee survey which asks specific questions on the number of aggressive incidents, frequency of aggressive incidents and the health consequences of these incidents (i.e. physical injury such as minor bruising, abrasions or scratches to skin to psychological injury such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) may assist your workplace in obtaining an accurate assessment on the occurrence of aggression in the workplace and the severity of health consequences. 

To address under-reporting and encourage future reporting of aggressive incidents, employers may also consider developing and implementing a Statement of Intent which states management’s commitment to addressing aggression in the workplace and encourages reporting of workplace aggression incidents. 

Risk assessment

The Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984 requires employers to conduct risk assessments which consider how to reduce or eliminate the risk of injury or harm to health to employees, once a hazard has been identified in the workplace.  

Risk management of aggression in the workplace involves a systematic and planned approach that covers the associated risks to employee safety.  A risk assessment involves identifying the sources of risk, risk factors and the consequences if a worker is exposed to a hazard. 

Sources of aggression in the workplace 

Aggression in the workplace can occur in a variety of workplaces. Sources of aggression in the workplace can be categorised into three types:

  • Internal sources of aggression: occurs between employees within the same organisation. Internal sources of aggression are usually managed through Code of Conduct breaches and /or disciplinary procedures. 
  • External sources of aggression: the source is usually someone outside of the workplace and usually associated with robbery and other crime. Examples of external sources of aggression include:
    • A road construction worker who is hit by a glass bottle thrown by a person in a car who is frustrated at the reduced speed limit and traffic congestion;
    • A pharmacy assistant who is robbed by an offender who threatens her with a knife; 
  • Service related sources of aggression:  the source is usually associated with providing a service either to a client, member of the public, patient or inmate. Employees’ compensation figures show that over 40% of workplace assaults in WA were in the health and community services industry.  Examples of service related aggression include:
    • A teacher who is pushed over as she breaks up a fight between students;
    • A taxi driver who is assaulted by a passenger; 
    • A nursing home care attendant who is bitten by patient who is in a confused state. 

Risk factors

All employees and other people at workplaces are potentially at risk of experiencing some form of aggression in the workplace. Factors that may increase employees being exposed to aggression in the workplace include: 

  • Working with valuable objects such as cash, drugs, jewellery;
  • Working with distressed clients (for example patients and customers);
  • Working with intoxicated people;
  • Working with people who have a history of aggression or mental health conditions;
  • Working alone;
  • Working at night;
  • Delivery of passengers, goods or services;
  • Working in community based or health care settings;
  • Contact with the public;
  • Working in high crime areas. 

Risk assessment tips

When conducting a risk assessment remember to consider:

  • How often is the task done? Does this make harm more or less likely to occur?
  • Has it happened before, either in this workplace or a similar workplace? If it does happen, how often does it happen?
  • What are the consequences of it happening? Can it cause minor injury or harm to health/ serious injury or harm to health and/ or can it cause death? 

A sample Risk Management Toolkit for aggression in the workplace can be found in the Toolkits and Information Resources section

Controls and review

Preventing and controlling aggression in the workplace risks requires a systematic, planned and structured approach. A Prevention Management Plan will assist employers to minimise the risk of aggression in the workplace to employees and other persons in the workplace. 

To prevent and control aggression in the workplace, prepare a Prevention Management Plan to identify potential threatening or aggressive incidents at work which may injure or harm the health of employees and others at the workplace. Assess and control the risk of aggression in the workplace. Where appropriate, seek specialist assistance - for instance security agents, community police or support services. 

Employees and safety and health representatives, if any, should be consulted when preparing the Prevention Management Plan. Where appropriate, refer issues arising to safety and health representatives or the safety and health committee and resolve using the agreed procedure. 

The recommended approach to managing aggression at work is firstly to eliminate the opportunity for aggressive or threatening behaviour. If that is not possible, the potential for aggression should be isolated, managed and minimised. Finally, additional personal protection, such as duress alarms and training in handling confrontational behaviour and diffusing aggression, may help minimise the risk of injury or harm to health. 

A range of controls may be used together to reduce risk to an acceptable level.

A range of controls may be used together to reduce risk to an acceptable level.

Elimination- removing the hazard or hazardous work practice from the workplace. 

  • Always try to get rid of the hazard completely by changing the system of work.
  • Example: Direct payment of money into an account to reduce the amount of cash on the premises.

Substitution - substituting or replacing a hazard or hazardous work practice with a less hazardous one. 

  • If you cannot eliminate the hazard, try to replace the work process with something less hazardous.
  • Example: Accepting non cash payments.

Isolation - isolating or separating the hazard or hazardous work practice  from people involved in the work or people in the general work area. 

  • Where appropriate, make changes to the workplace or to equipment to reduce the risk  of injury or harm.
  • Example: Physical barriers or administrative procedures to protect staff.

Engineering - minimising the risk through redesign

  • Design the building or structure to provide safe systems of work.
  • Example: Install security or redesign waiting rooms.  

Administrative - make changes to the way work is organised to reduce the risk of injury or harm

  • Make changes to procedures, distribute information and provide training to reduce the risk of injury or harm.
  • Example: Train staff to deal with conflict and establish communication channels.

Personal protective equipment - personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used to provide greater protection for the worker or as a temporary measure whilst other risk controls are being organised. 

  • PPE should not be the only control as it is the least effective way of dealing with hazards. 
  • PPE should be used in combination with other methods to reduce risk.
  • Example: Personal alarms.


Share this page:

Last modified: