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Prevention and management of work-related violence - Mental Health Week 2018

This presentation is on the prevention and management of work related violence. David Whittingham (Workplace and Forensic Psychologist, Evexia) and Billie Reynolds (Safety Advisor, The Reject Shop) are keynote speakers in this unique session exploring collaborative approaches to identify risk and controls, removing barriers to incident reporting, safe work design and providing effective post-incident support.

This presentation was in support of Mental Health Week (6-14 October 2018). Mental Health Week promotes the importance of mental health and wellbeing, helping to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Get involved and learn more about what your workplace can, and should, be doing to manage psychological illness and injury risks.

Email us your questions and feedback.

Read transcript

Webinar: Work-related violence

Nicole : Good morning everyone. This week is mental health week and we are promoting the importance of mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Today our webinar is focused on work related violence. This webinar is brought to you by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. My name is Nicole Hughes, Principal Advisor Psychological Health Unit and I’ll be the facilitator for today’s webinar.

Work related violence is a significant safety issue. In 2016/17 work related violence accounted for over a quarter of accepted psychological injury claims. However we know, that compensable claims are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the impact of psychosocial hazards.

Today we are drawing on the expertise of speakers in relation to a multi-faceted approach to work related violence, with strategies and actions that can be applied to workplaces impacted by this area of risk.

I’m joined by guest presenters David Whittingham, Director and Workplace and Forensic Psychologist with Evexia and Billie Reynolds, Safety Advisor The Reject Shop.

Firstly just a quick reminder of the relevant legislation, the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The purpose of the WHS laws is to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces and health is defined as both psychological and physical health.

Employers have the primary duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that workers and other people are not exposed to psychological health and safety risks. Workers have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety while at work and not adversely affect other people’s health and safety.

When conducting health and safety risk assessment processes, it is important to undertake an assessment of the psychosocial hazards, including work related violence. See the WHSQ mentally healthy workplaces guidance and tools for further information.

I will now hand over to David from Evexia.

David : Hello and welcome and thank you for the kind introduction Nicole and the opportunity to assist with exploring workplace related violence for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland. And also a thank you to Billie Reynolds from The Reject Shop too who’ll be closing things out with the case study experiences.

I’ll be drawing on some experience today from working in criminal justice, forensic mental health and occupational risk in Australia and the United Kingdom to help with today’s webinar.

So briefly today, we’ll look at work related violence and from the outset it’s useful to note that it’s a diverse and complex topic. So we’ll be touching on several areas lightly and I do encourage participants to take the time to explore the subject matter in more depth and make use of the very helpful toolkits that Workplace Health & Safety Queensland have produced.

For example, the prevention management of aggression in the healthcare industry, a framework for the health sector. The guide to working safely in people’s homes, practical advice for WHS for community workers in people’s homes and the self-assessment tool in respect to client aggression and violence which looks at effectiveness and adequacy of your existing risk management approach for client aggression and risk in the workplace.

So, there’s some tremendous resources available and todays talk needs to be positioned in the context of what’s freely available too.

So let’s turn our minds to the focus points for today and I trust you’ve read these through now on the slide, I’ll be pointing to some of the more critical aspects of these things. We’ll canvass what is workplace violence, how much of a problem it is and also some thinking on prevention and controls.

As well as briefly touching on some strategic considerations and how advances in particular with robotic vision and machine learning are shaping a future that delicately balances that privacy and safety tension.

So, what is workplace violence? Definitions do vary, most of them include the experience of some type of intentional verbal behaviour, like a threat of violence and also a non-verbal physical behaviour like hitting, that’s to a worker or employee. Those things then range to more severe types of physical violence which involve weapons.

Not all definitions include the causational likelihood of harm, but some do. So here today we’ve got the Worksafe Queensland definitional guidance, which also notes categories of workplace violence as well.

So work related violence is any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. Examples of that work related violence can include verbal threats to harm or use violence, non-verbal physical violence and that’s things like pushing, shoving, biting, spitting, sexual assault or attacks with a weapon.

So the categories of workplace violence that typically includes external service related or domestic and family violence. So external violence is usually associated with robbery and other crimes and the perpetrator is someone from outside the workplace. It can happen in any industry, but often occurs in retail, hospitality, security, cash handling, finance and banking.

So we also see service related violence and that arises when there’s services being provided to clients, customers, patients or prisoners. Health, hospitality, retail, aged care, disability, youth services, education and enforcement are examples of that.

Domestic and family violence is an issue and it also draws in how those type of experiences outside work can also be drawn into the workplace and can affect things like safety, attendance and performance and we do talk very directly to that later on.

Ok, so just very briefly we will mention this again at the end but there are some really clear key takeaways for today and one of the most important is for you to know your own violence risk within your organisation and design safety to this.

It’s critical to use your own data to understand these things and look for your own trends and Billie Reynolds will actually give some good examples of that with The Reject Shop.

We also see violence risk assessment is becoming increasingly specialised, particularly at understanding individual level risk factors are four types of violence, like whether it be domestic violence, sexual violence or general violence. It’s very important to see risk long term, be aware of sleeper affects and what we mean by that is there are instances where people may have exposure to events and then not see the sickness related absence from the workplace for some time. So being able to make sure both the supports and risk management frameworks recognise these longer term considerations is very important.

We also see some really encouraging intervention models and prevention frameworks and interventions coming from general criminal justice and crime prevention which is the bystander intervention programs, so we’ll talk briefly about those. And we’ll also know that the experiences of security and safety can be quite different which is important for us to touch upon.

And lastly one of the other key takeaways is ensuring that your post instance support is there, whether it being through employee assistance programs or something similar, but it also allows the flexibility of that to be supportive and individually tailored for your staff.

Ok, so if your problem is workplace violence. Well we do have some useful statistics on that from Safe Work Australia. Whilst definitions and measurements vary, it is still really helpful to take on board that some of our reports here, from the 2014/2015 data sets, show that 37% of workers report being sworn or yelled at in the workplace and 22% of workers report being physically assaulted or threatened by patients or clients.

And then if you look at claim data, in this particular area you had 15% of mental stress claims being the result of exposure to occupational violence. If you sort of turn your mind to the UK and a recent household survey of working populations over there, the working people group there, 22% of the victims of crime, of all violent crimes occurred in the workplace. So it is a significant problem in summary even despite some of the challenges of reliable and accurate data.

Ok, probably an area that not only encapsulates the problem, but also draws in our new world of social media and connectivity, is how content moderator roles are exposed to, in some cases, these very graphic images of violence and sexual violence and that’s a new challenge but it’s led to some very specific resources, for example, being put in place around employee resilience guidebooks for handling child sexual abuse images. So this focus around managing exposure to potentially traumatic content in those type of roles, we’re now starting to see some very tailored and specific responses and the technology coalition has produced a guidebook on that, that’s really helpful.

So, how do we start to understand risk and workplace violence? Well probably one of the things that’s critical as a building block, is what actually is a risk factor? And so some of the guidance around that is a risk factor is a thing, a condition, a characteristic or event that’s been shown to actually predict the occurrence of the hazard. And so this again underscores the importance around that local data collection, that’s operating in your organisations to say “are these things actually predicting some of these hazards and then later outcomes?”

And we do see if we cast our mind more broadly, that there are specific examples that might exist for specific outcomes like types of violence and these indeed may contribute to causation, which we’ll go over in a little bit of detail.

And we will explore in the next slide how there are key risk factors from Safe Work Australia that also help us understand some of the activities that can increase the risk as well.

So let’s look to some of these key risk factors from Safe Work Australia. It’s things like working alone or in isolation, where you’re in a remote area with the inability to call for assistance, working off-site or in the community, working in an unpredictable environments, communicating face to face with customers, handling cash, drugs or valuables, providing care to people who are in distress, are afraid, ill or incarcerated and indeed service methods that might cause to create some sense of frustrations, resentment or misunderstanding. There’s also providing care or services for people who at times may have unreasonable expectations of what an organisations or indeed employee can provide to them. And lastly we have the area of enforcement activities. So these are some good examples of both a mixture of activities as well as potential risk factors for workplace violence.

If we then start to look at this on a more individualised level and we’re starting to think about the types of violence, increasingly we’ve seen forensic psychology develop useful tools to assess types of violence and the risk with those over several decades now. Many of these were developed to inform legal processes in criminal, civil, mental health and family law and so they have that additional rigour to them in expecting close scrutiny. Professionals whom use these tools do need to be trained in their use and also know the research behind them, so there are some specific requirements to be mindful of.

The purpose in highlighting some of them today, is really just to give you a taste of some of the risk factors that are present, but also what that might then look like for example in workplaces and indeed where there are those individuals who may be presenting with certain behaviours or characteristics that could, at times, increase the risk of certain types of violence.

So we see here on the slide, there’s some pictures of some of the manuals or these tools of which the majority of what they call structured professional judgement tools. Its where there’s been a trawl through the literature looking at what are known to be empirically supported in most cases, risks factors for later occurrences of violence and these checklists are then used in a way to try and capture an amount of data that’s available and say “do we see the presence of these risk factors and how well does it support the types of concerns we might need to have from a management and support and prevention perspective.”

So we have the SARA for assessing spousal risk in domestic violence for example, and the HCR-20 for general violence. We’ll go through a little bit in more details some examples. I do need to point out that whilst these are examples of risk factors for certain types of violence, they are just simply risk factors that are associated with the greater likelihood, it doesn’t mean they are direct causation and that not everyone that’s identified at risk becomes a perpetrator of violence, but it is a useful guide to kind of orient us and sensitise us to some of these things.

If we look at the SARA for example, it explores the nature of violence that might be there in terms of domestic and intimate partner violence that might include threats, for example. But also looks at perpetrator risk factors as to whether there might have been substance use present and indeed things like victim vulnerability factors like barriers to security.

There’s also some guidance from Professor Steven Hart regarding how you might put some of these things together in relation to a lethality assessment that considers such things as the level of current acute conflict, whether there’s current capacity for the person to be acting violent for example, presence of threats or weapons and indeed the idea of serious disinhibition from either emotional overwhelm or substance intoxication for example. So those things are put together to help put a picture together around is there a more lethal potential outcome that could be forecast.

If we then move …to a little bit more information about domestic and intimate partner violence, it is an area of significance and it is a good area where there’s growing awareness now and one of the challenges is how we also understand this in terms of what’s happening in perhaps people’s personal lives, but then when that starts to become apparent in workplaces and how do you respond to that?

If we look to a recent US survey of 32 companies where they had about 1,320 people respond, they found high levels of intimate partner violence intrusion into the workplace and that was described in the context of over 30% had been victimised whilst at work by their partner or former partner and 20% of them said that their supervisor or co-worker had also been contacted by that person and the severity of the violence predicted greater workplace impacts.

We’re seeing with Australian data from the 2018 report into family violence and sexual violence in Australia, it paints a confronting picture of 1 in 6 women and 1 in 16 men have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or previous partner since the age of 15. So it is an important issue and we certainly need to be very aware of it. So there are resources around and indeed there is publicly available guides and toolkits and if you look as far as Victoria they even have examples of things like decisions trees for how you might help link people into services or once their part of services.

So there are tremendous amount of resources on this area and it’s really important to be taking time to get across those and be aware of what some of the information is in respect to these.

If we look at workplace violence and in particular drawing on some of the information from the HCR-20, it looks at, for example, historical risk factors that might be present that could elevate risk for violence in an individual in some circumstances. For example, having a history of previous violence, having violent attitudes or having substance use problems. If you then look to clinical state variables of what might be seen in the present time, you know that evidence of emotional instability or violent ideas or intent, which might be more obvious to people or staff on the background of some of those other historical risk factors, again just starts to layer and increase the sense of possible increased violence.

We have in Australia a very, very useful tool for those folks working in in-patient environments. Dr Michael Dafin and Professor Jim Ogloff developed the DASA which stands for the ‘Dynamic Appraisal of Situational Aggression’. And it was developed to assist in short term assessment of risk for imminent violence in mental health units and it’s been very successful in helping understand and prevent violence better in in-patient settings through helping provide some very clear categories of types of risk factors and then helping measure those on a moment to moment basis to then feed into prevention and management and responses and the like. And it’s good to see an Australian tool featuring in this, a lot of the others are internationally developed in either the UK or the USA.

… individual level and then how do these things start to cycle back up to our sort of broader organisational kind of structures and response systems and things like that. And most importantly how do you start to kind of look at these kind of right risk factors if you like into quantifying the seriousness of the hazard, the frequency or duration of the hazard, the nature of it and the likelihood of its occurrence and imminence of it.

And so there’s some good guidance in some of the guides and prevention and management toolkits that really help to start to help organisations start to put more meat onto these particular areas that are critical in the OH&S space.

Alright, if we then now move to that more safe work design considerations, it’s all good and fine to have the identification of some of these risks and hazards but it operaters in a context and this is where it’s really important to feed your understanding of this data on risk factors into those broader safe work design elements. And so some valuable considerations include thinking about the design that you put in to culture and how you go about helping foster certain aspects of that culture to help with whether it be reporting or whether it be incident response or whether it be simply trying to shape narrative and cultural messaging that encourages certain types of responses.

So attention in this area for example as we know that some customer aggression events might have precursors in staff behaviours of incivility, which can escalate tensions rather than reduce or diffusing things. So being able to explore for example, a culture of accountability not culpability can help pick up those trends but also try and set some culture around being able to respond slightly differently to these types of, at times, provocative situations that might lead to some of that staff incivility.

We know from broader safety research that the micro decisions that certain supervisors make on a day to day basis that can contribute significantly to your safety culture. So engaging in this level, engaging that level in the organisation can be very important in terms of having a well-designed safety culture and can also produce that return on investment around where you’re targeting perhaps things like training.

We know more broadly that if you’re developing high quality relationships with aggressive residents, there’s some evidence that can actually buffer employee well-being. One of the challenges with that of course is that those more aggressive residents sometimes foster more distancing or avoidance behaviour from staff, so it’s a challenge but it’s also something where we can see benefits of being able to have those more positive formed high quality relationships as a mitigator of some types of violence in those care settings.

We also know that staff who experience more positive social exchanges on the negative effects of aggression and violence, that has also benefits to individual wellbeing, sometimes its very easy to over focus on the negative effects of aggression and we sometimes miss those other positive social exchanges that might be there in particular sector environments that can help provide a bit more of a balance to that tendency at times to focus on those other more negative elements.

And probably a couple of points here around the task analysis component. Certainly from some of the forensic and air safety areas it’s been very, very valuable to have that link between designing safety and risk procedures with a realistic task analysis from staff. There might be some great ideas sometimes that are developed in the perhaps management room but being able to pressure test that a bit with staff and say “is this realistic, is it practical?” that can really help provide that stronger sense of collaboration and feed those things in. And Billie from The Reject Shop highlights some good use of data and analysing trends to help design controls that will be looked at a little bit later on.

Ok. One of the other points that I did want to draw on briefly was this tension a little bit there around the distinction between security and safety. That’s very topical in the experience in the United States. There’s the value of obviously visible security measures that do convey that sense of safety but then there’s also some of the findings around the actual effects of these and whether they do create actually safer work outcomes.

So if one looks to some of the research in the United States on these overt measures like surveillance cameras and metal detectors and the like, there is some good information about how they’ve been found to reduce property crime, but there’s some emerging evidence that these more visible security measures have been also associated with increased exposure to other types of crime and violence. It didn’t deter motivated offenders through the presence of spatial surveillance measures like this and less visible measures need to operate in concert with these things, which is that stuff around threat reporting systems, being aware that you might have visitor sign in procedures that can be very valuable and so whilst you have cameras that are necessary, they’re not a sufficient control.

… which is a known issue in workplace violence and so this study compared self-report with electronic incident report and under reporting and they didn’t find any difference in this area. So it is important to have those reporting processes in place and to over communicate them as much as possible and then feeding that stuff back into people just creates that stronger sense of the value of where that reporting goes.

One of the things I also wanted to share was that is that how you go about the process of collecting data, there’s a number of ways to do that. It’s also sometimes useful to turn our mind to the models that might exist out there for how workplace violence might occur and this particular slide has a model from Edwards and Buckley from 2016 from United Kingdom that was informed by the crime survey data I mentioned briefly earlier.

It covers a range of areas that includes respondent’s characteristics, potential perpetrators, personality dispositions other variables like working hours, the size of the organisations. The idea around all of this is to also take the step back and to say look how are we collecting our data at the moment? Is it collecting some things that you know some of the surveys or the research might be saying is useful to try and help us understand what might be happening and indeed if some of these things have potential causal or predictive links too.

And we’re at that time where it’s useful to remind ourselves that we are blessed by high quality, freely available resources on how to understand and prevent workplace violence. So as I mentioned earlier there’s those guides, self-assessment tools and the prevention and management frameworks. And all of those are incredibly helpful organisationally to try and look at prevention and early intervention and indeed the toolkits are also available in terms of how you might start and think about building that kind of culture, that safety culture as well.

First of its kind that I’m aware of, when we’re getting into the sort of interventions of education, awareness raising. There was a New Zealand study that compared the results of a four sessions, multi-media health care support program for NGOs and district health boards, where they looked at a similar intensity mindfulness program versus a communication skills training program and how effective they were at reducing and preventing patient aggression in a community setting.

They actually found them having equal effectiveness, which was interesting and they both served to reduce psychological distress of workers and both served to increase psychological well-being in that sense of competence. So it is useful to provide these types of training and being able to sort of nuance them to what might be your local risk need profile based on the data collection processes.

One of the other areas that we’re starting to see that shows good promise, is this idea of the bystander as guardian’s against violence. And so we have our crime prevention folks to thank for this and this is the idea where our bystanders may have that sensitivity to early warning signs of violence or indeed when something’s happening and can intervene and the more that we can help build that sense of confidence and awareness in people so they can act as bystanders and intervene when they’re seeing the indicators, when they respond to an actual event it’s had very encouraging results in disrupting crime both in terms of cyber-abuse, property crime and sexual violence.

And there’s a view about how managers can start to take on more of that kind of role as they set culture around these areas and having that strong bystander intervention regulation and also that support to inspire and empower confidence in people being able to take those steps to intervene when it’s needed. And I guess that’s particularly important with some of the intrusion data we were talking about earlier domestic and family violence and how that can come over into the workplace.

If something has happened and we’ve moved into that post-incident support space, of which Billie does talk about some examples of this a little bit later on. But the post-support, post-instance support, it’s really important to have that criticality of care, linking to recovery resources and indeed there’s some valuable support that’s available through programs like psychological first-aid.

We do know from some overseas studies and large overseas studies, that exposure to workplace violence can increase the risk of health-related absence and greater for those folks that have been exposed than those who haven’t. We’ve got here a statistic of 1.6 times higher, but probably what was perhaps more interesting in some ways was that those affected were affected for up to 8 years. So when we’re thinking about designing risk solutions or indeed even just thinking about things from an assessment perspective, it is important to have that long time frame in mind, that these affects may not become known for long periods and this particular study did identify that those folks who are more at risk were people who were older and also women.

We’re also starting to see some emerging evidence of some sector emphasised trauma symptoms, for example, bus drivers having particular types of symptoms that might be more overt or severe, like flashbacks and irritability and healthcare workers having greater hypervigilance. Whether this bares out over longer term research at this stage it is again just highlighting how these things are starting to become more nuanced and we’re starting to have more information available about the types of symptom profiles that might be present in some post incident coping responses with people.

Again, with post incident support and resources we do have, for example, Australian guidelines for Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. And they broadly recommend there’s note of pre-incident preparation training which may facilitate psychological adaption following an event, that hasn’t been through a very robust amount of controlled research, from a systematic intervention perspective. But it kind of makes logical sense and it’s, I think, a really useful way to help people in terms of the psychological preparation experiences. We also know with post incident exposure there’s some cautionary notes around structured debriefing that involves an elation of emotions without broader consideration to everyone who’s in the room through those processes, so there is more of a view around the watchful waiting, combined with your kind of psychological first-aid principles and then responding more to individual need.

And so psychological first-aid, for example, encompasses that idea of immediate emotional and physical comfort, providing information on possible responses and what type of reactions people won’t normally have in response to a stressful event and then has that targeted practical support to try and help link people in to social, family, peer support mechanisms to promote normal recovery and coping, ‘cause we do know the vast majority of people recover through those mechanisms rather than through specialised support. And there’s also that flag around that if symptoms aren’t present for over four weeks, people should be seeking some clinical assessment at that stage.

Probably one of the areas where I think there’s one of the most interesting opportunities for us but also some of the challenge around privacy and safety is that we’re seeing this incredible utilisation of our robotic vision technologies and our machine learning to have for example, your crowd monitoring drone technology, where it will scan a group of people and then look for indicators of possible or potential behaviours that are precursors for violence and so that kind of crowd monitoring for violence is up and running. There is technology around that form University of Cambridge and India’s National Institute of Technology for this eye in the sky program.

We also know that there are AI being used in predicting crime and monitoring safety, the LAPD for over eight years now has been using a program called PREDPOL which is designed to identify areas in neighbourhoods where crimes are likely to occur during particular periods and again this is utilisation of those big data sets and crime prediction software as well as things like geographical clustering.

More interestingly and recently we’ve seen automated risk assessment for school violence through a pilot study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and they had noted school violence had increased over the previous 10 years and so they are trying to look at a more standard and sensitive method for helping identify students who are at high risk for school violence and there’s some interesting emerging findings around that type of application of technology.

Again a cautionary note around any of these things, the value of these more automated systemic software technology tools is tremendous but it’s also come with the cautionary note around needing to have digital decision making tools that are fair and unbiased and try and be more sensitive to some of the possible ripple effects with things like racial profiling. They’re tremendous opportunities but they also pose those complex decisions around what goes into them to help them both have predictive value but also what that might mean in relation to things like bias.

So, all this sort of feeds into some ideas around thinking a bit more strategically on risk and I guess some of the take aways which we do reference a little bit later as we finish up is really trying to design solutions that’s based on your risks and your needs. In the long term prepare to think AI and the data will be designing a lot more of these people risk systems and support.

When you are looking at monitoring, having that data to help design both static and dynamic monitoring of risk is going to be really important both from a physical perspective in terms of the environment and also that personal kind of potential risk profiles too. We know that the supportive managerial supervision, where leader behaviour sets culture and that support also improves staff wellbeing and health outcomes after exposure is really important and a clear strategic consideration. And we also know with intervention that there is value around tailored communications skills, either before and during and post event as well as things that increase and improve that sense of situational awareness supporting control.

And probably lastly, safety planning whether it be through simulations where there may be a known target for risk for violence, that there is a really important management plan put in place that does involve some sense of rehearsed preparedness too.

So getting down to our last takeaways now. Know your risk and design safety to this whilst, the commonalities across assessment and prevention collecting your accurate and reliable site comparable data and linking this to collaborative team feedback and planning can be a powerful intervention in of itself and I know Billie’s going to talk a little bit on that.

With violence risk assessment you’ll see there are a range of individual specific evidence based tools for examining types of violence, including domestic violence, general violence, group violence, threat assessment and there may be occasions where organisation explore these to understand an individual’s risk to staff with a specialist.

Importantly as our knowledge grows we’re seeing exposure to workplace violence can produce sickness absence over lengthy lead times and so we need to keep in mind this kind of eight year window that we’re starting to see emerge. So having those longer time horizons in support staff is important, as well as the type of risk systems you’re putting in to try and identify hazards and trends.

We’re also seeing a recommendation around these criminal justice style interventions programs with the bystander approach and the related thinking being proposed for workplace violence and that’s very encouraging and I think that those will go a long way to helping create and foster that kind of culture of intervening with lead indicators or intervening with things aren’t ok.

We also see the research from the school violence in the United States, noting the difference between security and safety and it isn’t just enough to have the cameras and security guards, we need to have the other less overt systems that are helping to create a stronger sense of safety outcomes.

And lastly with post incident support, approaches like psychological first-aid remain important and for many workplaces such support’s already available from employees assistant programs and having that flexibility to be able to ensure that there are individually tailored responses and it is a supportive post incident response that fosters both a combination of support and access to resources but also accountability verse culpability is really important.

Nicole : Thanks David for sharing some of the research conducted in the area in work related violence and the practical applications. I’d now like to introduce Billie who’s going to talk about The Reject Shop’s approach to mitigating the risk of work related violence.

Billie Reynolds : Thanks Nicole and David for having me here today, I really appreciate the opportunity to share our experience and spread a little bit of information about what we’re doing.

Just as a bit of history, I’ve been in the safety field for quite a number of years now, but I guess I only really moved into retail in 2014. I’ve got to say it’s an industry that’s certainly has varying challenges, but I do feel that our experiences can be transposed into other industries as well. So I’m hoping that the information I pass on today will be useful to everyone who is tuned into the webinar.

A little bit about our company, is that The Reject Shop is a national discount retailer, we are publicly listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. We opened our first store in 1981 and we employ over fifty five hundred (5,500) employees and that’s over 355 stores in Australia. We do cover all corners of Australia, except the Northern Territory, at this point. We have 74 stores located here in Queensland, which are both in our Brisbane metro and our regional areas.

We’ve also got the three distributions centres across the country, with one of those being here in Queensland, in Bundamba. In June 2017, nearly 75% of our employee population at The Reject Shop were recorded as young workers. So that means that they’re aged between 14 and 24, and that’s a pretty big number, ends up being thirty nine hundred (3,900) people that we were looking at in that particular category. It meant like we did need to look at things just that bit different.

So what do we know about the risk profile of work related violence in retail, and especially at The Reject Shop? Well did you know that retail is one of the few places that still operates with large amounts of cash within the workplace that can be targets for theft and armed robbery and though these incidents are relatively infrequent given the number of retail workplaces that are open for trade? The most common incidents that we have reported are under today’s topic are basic verbal abuse and threatening behaviour. However we’ve also had a number of incidents where customers have even thrown products at our team members for numerous reasons.

The design of our retail spaces, such as members of the public coming into those areas, means that it can expose our workers to different things. Also concerning though not common, is incidents involving sexual advances or inappropriate conversations between offenders and our team. Usually these occur in isolated aisles or where team members are boxed in by the environment.

Some incidents can escalate and customers have been known to grab the team members and push and shove them. Recently with the bag bans at Coles and Woolworths there have been reports in the media of retail workers even being chocked over 15 cent plastic bags and this is certainly not acceptable in anyone’s situation. According to the SDA, who’s the Shop Distributors and Allied Union, a recent survey showed that more than 85% of their members had been exposed to some form of abuse at work.

So to assist us with risk assessment, we turn to guidance material available from the regulators and peak body associations. There’s some fantastic resource material, accessible through Safe Work Australia and Workplace Health & Safety Queensland to get you started. Complimentary regular tools like the Young Worker Toolkit and People at Work are also helpful if you have specific groups of workers that are more at risk than others, and this is how we found out about us having that particular number of young workers within our business.

We’ve combined the incident data reported, with a range of other feedback to help us with the assessment of the risks to our team. This included incident reports and reviews to review our responses to events of work related violence to help improve the ways that we deliver training and communication. But also for how we plan to support and protect the team.

Employee engagement surveys, targeting specific metrics also played a part in telling us if there were areas we needed to investigate more. At other times we worked with our stores to forward through information on local police or shopping centre led programs on theft, this helped us identify high risk periods or other trends in some areas.

Some of our assessments also crossed over with data from our loss prevention and space planning challenges. Factors driving the risk included prominent placement of CCTV cameras and screens and high theft product in low visibility areas, which has led to our workers being put in awkward positions when seeking to investigate theft. This has led the business to review the way that we situate our stores within our layouts and to see if there’s something better we can do to help prevent any kind of injury or illness to people.

When we were looking at ways that we could proactively deal with the hazards involved, we looked at communication of risks and the empowerment of our store teams was a large focus. We started by ensuring that clearly communicated our HR policies related to the workplace code of practice and prevention of bullying and harassment. We now have our corporate values which have a set of acceptable behaviours to help our team understand what we accept and what we should call out as safe or unsafe behaviours.

We’ve also sought some assistance with the assessment of risks through a risk management approach. We invested in a cognitive demands assessment using the services of a clinical psychologist to assess the psychological demands of tasks at the workplace. This will inform strategic intervention and communication to doctors, independent medical assessors and even line training for our line managers.

We are working with industry peak bodies such as SDA Union and the National Retailers Associations to learn more about alternative and best practice industry approaches that contribute to risk management where the risk is greater than just our business.

We felt it extremely important to invest quite a bit of time when we were launching our new incident reporting system in 2017, to include specific fields around work related and occupational violence. Now it’s important for us to make sure the reporting is as simple as possible and we wanted to make sure that everyone found it easy and to encourage our team to report more. Some of our team felt that only incidents that were physically hurting people needed to be reported and this led to a lack of understand about what was acceptable workplace behaviour, even when it involved our customers or our contractors.

We’ve worked hard to communicate the importance of reporting all incidents regardless of severity to our team. An important selling point to encourage reporting to our team is the value of quality reporting in assisting police to prosecute crimes, where an offender can be identified and charged. We also help our stores on an individual basis by looking at trends and putting in proactive actions ahead of seasonal periods. I will have an example for you later in these slides.

As support functions we also encouraged our operations and HR colleagues to use and talk about the reporting system in their conversations with the teams. This meant that things previously seen as just a HR handled issue or the driver maybe having a bad day or that’s a landlord and tenant dispute, were also recorded and if there was a risk to work violence or abuse, then this was mentioned as well.

As a result of the sustained conversation, in the last financial year, we’ve had over 292 incidents involving some form or identified theft, abuse, aggression or inappropriate behaviours recorded. And this is now a regular feature of our senior leadership and board reporting for incidents that identified high risk to psycho-social hazard factors and allows responsible officers within the business to become more involved in the required response.

When we started to get some serious incident reporting numbers, it allowed us to identify areas of high risk for immediate response. The first trend came out of Tasmania and was really related to incidents involving theft. We had a high number of incidents that were being reported and on two occasions the theft had also resulted in threats to team members. As a result we developed a training response for store managers to develop their skills to respond to workplace violence through a hazard management response.

This training tried to empower store managers to proactively intervene towards preventing risk. Using factors such as roster changing, response training, lighting, CCTV, stock placement and engagement with local networks to support active solutions. With our response to Tasmania being delivered, we also started to see a new trend in Western Australia. As we share our information through all areas of the business, this was now related more to our stores that have an entry into a public carpark or plaza, as you will find happens with quite a lot of retail businesses.

We had a couple of reports of group assaults that spilled into our store or placed our team or customers at risk, the training was then modified to be delivered to the WA team to help the managers ensure that they had good practices to respond to riots through lockdowns. These scenarios were also trained with our team and drilled as part of our schedule emergency response training. Again the focus was about empowering our store managers to realise that they had the ability to proactively respond to identified risks or incidents.

Now we also ensure that the rest of our teams are involved and not only in the reporting side, but also in providing feedback on the controls. We do this via a face to face conversation but also via our online communications program called Trampoline, we have forums, bulletins and regular training programs available on this system, which everyone can participate in no matter what level of the business you’re in.

I’d like to give you a couple of examples where we’ve had workplace related violence occur in our business and what we’ve actually done and as David mentioned, it’s I guess it’s more focused around the post side and what we did to support the team.

The first example is where two team members had left the store and were walking towards the food court on a break. A member of the public approached the pair and started with verbal abuse at one of the team members, and then the member of public physically assaulted one of the team members, causing injuries. Both team members were offered assistance by people nearby and then returned to the store, they contacted the line manager straight away who put into action our safety process, where we contact the safety team, loss prevention and HR.

The injured team member was offered the medical treatment, as well as the employee assistance program .The team member was off work for one week and then given six weeks of modified duties and finally returned to full duties. During the time that they were off, they were given regular contact from the line manager and our return to work coordinator to check on their general wellbeing.

We also offered and arranged for EAP to attend the store to speak with the other team members whom she worked with. We provided a security guard to be physically present in the store, as this offered a visual reassurance to the team around their safety. Remember it’s not always just the persons who’s been specifically involved in that incident that can be affected. Sometimes it’s those other people that are working with the person, who may not have even seen the incident, who may also need some form of support.

In the second example I have for you, it’s actually a bit more closer to home here in Brisbane. We had seven stores who reported receiving prank calls within a short period and they were targeting our female team members. Some of the conversations were sexually explicit resulting in it being reported to the police. And in this case the biggest issue for the team members involved was a lack of empowerment given the nature of the incident.

It was really important for us as businesses, to empower our team members to take control and take part in identifying a solution. We worked with our phone provider to implement malicious call trace and we explained to our team how this worked, so that they could keep detailed phone logs of any new calls or descriptors of the person on the other end of the line.

This information is then collated and we used it to communicate what we knew to the police. We made sure that anyone involved felt that they were being supported in their needs by the business as well as looking out for others that we felt could be affected by the same offender.

So when you’re thinking about incidents, it’s all about your first response. The way you respond initially to any incident can make a difference. For example, caring for your team and providing any protection, not only to support the individual, but those around them and it can make all the difference.

It’s not always possible to predict every situation or what might occur, what is important is making sure that your team are provided with access to as much information as needed as well as providing support to all levels of the business.

Be transparent in your information as this will only help in the prevention and handling of these occurrences and finally remember that you can always learn something from every incident, you should always review what has happened and learn to improve on the responses.

Nicole : Thanks very much Billie for sharing information on the Reject Shop’s approach to tackling work related violence. So in summary this slide outlines some of the key points relevant to the area of work related violence.

Prevention and management of work related violence is the workplace health and safety issue that requires a multi-faceted organisational approach and commitment from all levels, it is important to encourage reporting of incidents and remove any barriers to reporting. Consultation is key, draw on first-hand experience of your employees and the planning of effective and safe work design. And ensure there are evidence based responses following incidents of work related violence.

This slide directs you to the Worksafe site for further information for further information on mentally healthy workplaces. I encourage you to access the mentally healthy workplaces toolkit for a wide range of practical and free tools and resources on offer. You may also wish to attend one of our mentally healthy workplaces workshops.

So thanks very much for listening to our webinar today and I’d like to thank our presenters David Whittingham from Evexia and Billie Reynolds from The Reject Shop and finally here are the contact details for Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

Thank you.

[End of Transcript]

Last updated
22 October 2018

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