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Violence and aggression

Violence or aggression at work refers to any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. This includes abuse, threats or assaults by workers, clients, patients, visitors or others.

What is work-related violence and aggression?

Work-related violence and aggression covers a range of actions and behaviours that create risks to the health and safety of workers.

Examples include:

  • biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking
  • throwing objects
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
  • verbal abuse or threats
  • armed robbery
  • sexual assault
  • using or threatening to use a weapon
  • aggressive behaviour including yelling or physical intimidation.

Reading the Preventing and responding to occupational violence (PDF, 0.37 MB) handbook will give you an in-depth guide to identifying violence or aggression hazards and finding ways to reduce or eliminate them.

There are several sources of work-related violence and aggression covered here:

  • External violence associated with robbery, hold ups or other crimes where the perpetrator is someone from outside the team, for example banks or shops.
  • Service-related violence occurs when providing services to clients, customers, patients or prisoners. It generally happens in the health, hospitality, retail, aged care, disability, youth services, education and enforcement industries.
  • Internal violence and aggression – can arise within the work environment from other co-workers, supervisors or managers. While internal work-related violence and aggression can occur in isolation, with no other psychosocial hazards present, it may also occur as a result of multiple psychosocial hazards not being managed effectively (e.g. low job control, poor organisational justice and poor relationships at work).

Domestic and family violence (DFV) is an issue that can also impact the work environment. A DFV workplace package has been developed to identify, assess and manage risks associated with DFV, and consists of a workplace risk management guide and individual risk assessment and safety plan.

What are the risks?

Violence and aggression at work often causes physical or psychological injury and can sometimes be fatal. It can also result in economic and social costs to the victim, their family, their business and the wider community. Like all work health and safety risks, it must be managed.

How do I manage the risks?

Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological. You must make sure that violence does not create a risk to your own or anyone else’s health and safety.

For workers

As a worker, you must take reasonable care of your own health and safety in your place of work, and the health and safety of others who may be affected by your actions. You must also follow any reasonable instructions given by the person who conducts a business or undertaking (PCBU).

For businesses

As a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of your workers and others in your place of work. You must provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a safe and healthy working environment. You must also talk with your workers (and with other PCBUs when required) about health and safety issues.

Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

The first step is to identify potential for work-related violence and aggression in your place of work. This means looking at everything from the work environment to work tasks, how they’re carried out, and the way work is designed and managed.

Typical hazards that can increase the risk of violence and aggression at work include:

  • handling cash, drugs or valuables
  • working alone, working in isolation, working in the community and working at night
  • providing services to distressed, angry or incarcerated people
  • enforcement activities
  • work environments where workers are exposed to high levels of other psychosocial hazards (where workers experience stress, frustration or conflict)
  • service methods that cause or escalate frustration, anger, misunderstanding or conflict (e.g. long waiting times, denying someone service, an absence of queue management leading to queue jumping).

Sometimes, a worker may avoid reporting a violent or aggressive incident because:

  • it’s thought to be ‘part of the job’ and nothing can be done about it
  • the worker believes that only ‘serious incidents’ are to be reported
  • there’s a belief that nothing will happen if the incident is reported
  • the worker believes they will be blamed for the incident
  • the reporting process is time-consuming and complex
  • they just want to forget about it.

To determine if violence and aggression is a potential hazard in your place of work:

  • talk with health and safety representatives, health and safety committees, workers, customers and clients
  • walk through and inspect your place of work
  • review workers’ compensation claims
  • refer to industry standards and guidelines
  • examine local crime statistics
  • review the hazard and incident reports.

A risk assessment involves thinking about what could happen if someone is exposed to a hazard (the consequence of exposure) and the likelihood of it happening.

Psychosocial hazards may interact or combine to increase the overall psychosocial risk so need to be considered together.

A risk assessment can help you figure out:

  • the severity of a risk
  • whether any effective control measures are in place
  • what actions you can take to control this risk
  • how quickly you should act.

To determine the likelihood that someone will be harmed by violence and aggression at work, ask yourself:

  • has it happened before, either in this place of work or somewhere else?
  • if it has happened, how often does it happen?

To determine the possible consequences, ask yourself:

  • will it cause minor or serious injury, or death?

After the risks have been identified and assessed, you'll need to control them. Risk control measures should be selected on the basis of highest protection and most reliability.

Control measures

  • Eliminating the risk
    The most effective control measure is to eliminate the hazard and associated risk, for example getting rid of cash handling in a public car park by using an electronic payment system.
  • Isolating the risk
    If it’s not reasonably practicable to eliminate the hazard, the risk should be minimised by using a range of control measures, for example separating workers from the public. This could be done with protective barriers or screens.
  • Using administrative controls
    You must also use administrative controls if there is still a risk after you’ve tried to reduce it with other control measures. Administrative controls protect your workers by working in ways that reduce their exposure to a hazard, for example introducing new cash-handling procedures and varying banking times.

You may need to use a combination of these control measures to meet your responsibilities under WHS laws. The Preventing and responding to work-related violence (PDF, 0.37 MB) handbook has more control measures that might be useful for your business.

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business and you should review your control measures regularly. Don’t wait until something goes wrong.

In some situations, WHS legislation requires you to review controls.

These are:

  • when the control measure is not effective in controlling the risk
  • before a change that might give rise to a new risk
  • when you identify a new hazard or risk
  • when consultation with workers indicates a review is needed
  • when the dynamic and complexity of your business changes, for a new supervisor or worker
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

A review of risk control measures should be undertaken after incidents involving violence and aggression.

A review of risk control measures can include an examination of:

  • the physical work environment and security measures
  • work systems and procedures
  • worker training and information
  • the consultation processes in your place of work.

Legislation and Codes of practice

You should read through the relevant legislation and codes of practice carefully to make sure your business is complying with the health and safety duties in the WHS Act.

Other legislation

A range of laws deal with mental health issues in Queensland workplaces.

Further support

You may wish to contact an organisation listed below for further information or support.

  • Mental Health Commission
  • Lifeline Australia – 13 11 14
  • Mental Health access line – 1300 642 255 a confidential mental health telephone triage service that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services to Queenslanders. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and links callers to the nearest Queensland Public Mental Health service.
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Beyond Blue – 1300 22 46 36
  • 13 YARN – 13 92 76 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Heads Up – information and resources on developing a healthy workplaces
  • Workers’ Psychological Support Service – assists Queensland workers who have experienced a work-related psychological injury.
  • Injury Prevention and Management Program – IPaM is a joint initiative delivered by WHSQ and WorkCover Queensland. It is a free program designed to help Queensland businesses develop and implement sustainable health, safety and injury management systems.

Standards and compliance

Tools and resources

For healthcare and community service workers

For transport workers

  • Bus driver safeties self-assessment (PDF, 0.29 MB) – this tool will help in reviewing the effectiveness and adequacy of your existing risk management approach for client aggression and violence risks at your place of work.