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ON Series: Workplace violence and mental health

Michael O'Hanlon from Beyond Blue introduces the topic of workplace violence and the effects it has in the workplace and for workers returning to work.

Michael also provides links to additional resources.

ON Series - Workplace violence and mental health

Welcome to our On Series webcast for Queensland stakeholders, proudly brought to you by the Office of Industrial Relations.

Today's webcast is about the effects workplace violence has on return to work.

We have Michael O'Hanlon from Beyond Blue here to tell us about workplace violence and its effects.

OIR are committed to driving initiatives across the work across the workers compensation scheme that improves safety, well-being, and return to work outcomes for both employers and workers.

Michael, our presenter today, has over 20 years experience in operational and management roles in the mining and information technology business.

For the past 10 years, Michael has worked at Beyond Blue, an independent not for profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

His current role as Workplace Engagement Manager combines his professional and personal experience of depression and anxiety to advocate to corporations, industry associations, and peak bodies about the benefits of improving mental health in the workplace.

We are pleased to have Michael share this research about workplace violence and the effects it has in the workplace and for workers returning to work.

Thank you Mary Ann, and welcome to today's webinar which will focus on mental health and workplace violence.

The aim of the webinar is to provide an overview or an introduction to the topic, rather than a deep dive.

I'll provide links on each of the slides to resources that will enable you to source additional information according to your own individual needs.

A clear reference that I'll be using today is the Heads Up website, which is a resource developed by Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and Beyond Blue.

The Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance is a collation of government, business, and the mental health sector all coming together to promote mentally healthy workplaces, and you can see all the members on the slide there in front of you.

So let's have a look at what we'll be covering in the webinar.

There's the agenda for today.

It's a quick review of what is workplace violence, what's the impact, looking at some of the risk factors, and then how to we manage the impact of workplace violence on mental health, and considerations about return to work, and then some more details around where you might like to start.

So, what is workplace violence? There's different definition here from Safe Work Australia that it's any incident where a person is abused, threatened, or assaulted in circumstances arising out of, or in the course of work.

Directed at the person or as a result of witnessing violence.

And some industries in particular, like first responders, correctional services, or health and aged care sectors, are the most likely to be exposed to workplace violence.

However, it's important to remember it can actually happen in any industry and any workplace.

It covers a broad range of actions and behaviours that create a risk to the health and safety of all workers, so the risk to the health and safety is an important consideration.

And there you can see some of the kind of actions and behaviours, biting, spitting, punching, pushing, throwing objects, verbal assaults, aggravated assault, any for of indecent physical contact, and threatening someone with a weapon or armed robbery.

So that's quite a simple high level definition.

The impact of workplace violence can be seen in a number of different ways.

You can see here a list of possible impacts, distress, anxiety, panic attacks, or sleep disturbance, which are more on psychological level.

Physical illnesses, muscular tension, headaches, reduced work performance, which highlights that this is not just an individual issue, but it's also a wider organisational issue as more people exposed to workplace violence, the greater the impact on the organisation itself.

Individuals can suffer a loss of self-esteem and feelings of isolation, deteriorating relationships.

They may experience depression.

And at the extreme end, there may be an increased risk of suicide.

So let's have a look at some of the risk factors for workplace violence.

So there's two categories.

There's one that's classified as external or intrusive risk factors for workplace violence, and this occur where a person who has no connection to a workplace, and their main objective is to obtain cash or other valuables.

So clearly it happens most likely in specific industries such as retail, security, finance, cash handling, transport and logistics, and hospitality.

So then you can see some of the risks in those industries as working alone or an isolated area, or only with a few workers on site, at night or outside normal business hours, in unpredictable environment.

We don't have control all the time on what's happening.

Will you may be communicating fact-to-face with customers? And showing people, for instance, real estate property, or goods or services, handling cash, drugs, or other valuables.

So it's where there's an external risk.

The other type of workplace violence risks are associated with client associated factors.

So this involves a person in the care of an organisation or someone seeking a service from an organisation.

Again, you can look at industries such as hospitality, healthcare, disability, education, emergency services, police prisons, welfare and community services.

And the risk there are providing care to people who are in distress, afraid, ill, or incarcerated.

So, the people you're dealing with are under stress themselves.

The service methods can cause frustration, resentment, or misunderstanding leading to the individual to respond violently.

You could be providing services to people, have an unreasonable expectation of what an organisation or employee can provide them.

We're you involved in enforcement activities, carrying or having access to drugs, handling cash or valuable, or working alone in an isolated area.

So that's a quick summary of workplace violence and some of the risk factors, and as I mentioned, one on each slide there, you'll see some links to where you can find more information.

So let's have a look at managing the impact of workplace violence on mental health, and some of the considerations around return to work.

In principle, managing the impact of workplace violence on mental health in workplace is the same as for any other mental health condition.

So we're really talking about how you might manage a mental health condition in the workplace where workplace violence is the trigger.

First of all, as always, you need to address the potential workplace sources, respond to the violence complaint, support the individual who may have a mental condition working, resulting from a workplace violence incidence.

If you can help in them stay at work, because staying at work can play a vital role in the person's recovery by improving their quality of life, giving structure to day-to-day life, contributing to sense, and meaning, and purpose, and promoting opportunities for social inclusion and support.

You might recognise some of those are very similar to someone staying at work from a physical injury, rather than isolating them at home.

Now if we look at returning to work in particular, there are some barriers that could get in the way from workplace violence.

The common mind is that people fear that colleagues may find out about the diagnosis, and then have negative reactions to them.

So the fear of what others will think.

There's a fear of lost connection with workers and co-workers, a lack of support and understanding from employers and managers. And this can be perceived or actual.

If you are in a stress situation, you may have an impression that this is the case, or as I said, it might actually be that the employer or manager doesn't have an insight to what barriers could be there returning to work.

Not sure about the levels of support available stigma, the big barrier to do with mental health conditions. Again, it goes back to what will people think. And concerns about what work-related contributors to the stress and anxiety in the first place have not been addressed. So it have the issue relating to workplace violence being addressed.

What other things you might like to consider around legislative and regulatory obligations.

Work health and safety and the bullying at the top and bottom of this slide, I think it pretty well covered and pretty well understood.

The two areas in the middle I like to highlight. That's discrimination.

Anyone experiencing mental health condition, be it from a incident of workplace violence, is entitled to reasonably practical adjustments from their employees, under the disability discrimination act.

So, managers, employers need to be aware of that.

From an employee's perspective, the employees still need to be able to fulfil the inherent requirements of the job.

Privacy is another interesting area, and that a manager or anyone who an individual has disclosed that they may be experiencing a mental health condition too, are obliged under the Privacy Act not to disclose that to anybody else, except in the case where the individual may have risk of self-harm or harming others.

And they can only disclose the information with the individual's consent, and only for the purposes of, for instance, making reasonable adjustments, or whatever the agreement is.

So there's a quick look at workplace violence and the causes, what it is, and some of the impacts.

I mentioned to look at Heads Up, and this will give you a good idea where you might start to do a deeper dive.

Workplace violence is part of a broader environmental factor in a workplace.

If you have workplace violence, have a look at what else could be happening in your workplace.

Is your workplace a mentally healthy workplace? Does it foster a positive workplace culture? Does it manage stress and other risks to mental health as under the Work Health and Safety Act? Does it support people with mental health conditions? And does the organisation take a zero tolerance approach to discrimination, harassment, and violence? So looking at this in a holistic sense, it's actually a culture within the organisation of which workplace violence may be one particular risk factor.

And if have a look at the Heads Up website.

It's a central point for information for all workplaces, simple free practical resource.

So there's free booklets you can download, videos, online training for anyone at any particular level in an organisation, and there's an action plan tool there that can help you step through some of the things you might wanna look at, undertaking in your workplace to improve workplace mental health.

Here's a range of other information that you may want to have a look at.

We've recently released a particular resort, sorry, resource for health services, and it looks at including workplace violence.

Similarly, we've developed one for police and emergency services.

There, let's say, Victoria has an excellent website on health and safety topic under occupational violence, and SafeWork Australia also has some information around workplace violence.

So as I said, that was a quick summary over the topic, rather than a deep dive.

I hope you found it useful.

By all means, get in there and have a look.

You can contact Heads Up, or I'm sure you can contact WorkSafe Queensland if you want more information.

Thank you for your time.

Thanks Michael for your expertise and the work that Beyond Blue do for everyone.

Heads Up continue to do a tremendous job in providing research, strategy, and support on workplace violence and return to work outcomes.

If you like further information, visits the Heads Up website, or visit our website at

Thank you.

[End of Transcript]

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