Workplace violence is widespread throughout Australia. With harassment, bullying or exposure to violence causing almost 40% of mental illness claims at work. Find out more in this latest post by SafeWork NSW.

Realising the impact

Workplace violence affects Australian workers in different ways. SafeWork Australia has found that: 

  • 40% of mental illnesses at work are caused by harassment, bullying or exposure to violence
  • 37% of workers report being sworn or yelled at in the workplace 
  • 22% of workers report being physically assaulted or threatened by patients or clients 
  • 11% of workers experienced unfair treatment due to gender

The many faces of workplace violence  

Workplace violence is not just physical abuse in the workplace. It also includes:  

  • verbal and emotional abuse or threats 
  • threatening or intimidating behaviour in writing, including social media 
  • customer aggression 
  • gendered violence or  
  • behaviour that creates a fear of violence

Sizing up the problem

While it occurs across all industries, workplace violence is most common in roles where people work directly with the public or external clients, such as retail, health care and social assistance. 

According to a report released by the National Retail Association, more than 85% of Australian retail workers experienced verbal or physical abuse, with some retailers reporting a 400% increase in aggression and abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This is mirrored in the health sector with 61.9% of health care professionals reporting exposure to workplace violence and occupational violence in the 2021 QUT’s Centre for Justice report.

A holistic approach to managing and preventing workplace violence

Everyone has the right to feel safe at work and to perform their job free from harassment, violence, assault, bullying and discrimination. Employers have a legal obligation to provide a healthy and safe work environment.  

You can prevent injuries from violence by: 

  1. consulting with your workers to identify risky situations 
  2. changing where and how work is done to minimise risks 
  3. having policies on acceptable behaviour  
  4. making sure workers understand how to report incidents of violence if they occur so they can be investigated

Managing workplace violence as part of creating a mentally healthy workplace

Here are some key steps you can take to address workplace violence at your organisation:  

  • Integrate a workplace violence prevention program into your overall health and safety program. This should include training for workers to understand, prevent and manage incidents of work-related violence, as well as de-escalation strategies
  • Responses to workplace violence will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. Establish systems on what to do at the time of, and immediately after an incident. For more serious incidents you should report them to SafeWork NSW
  • Proactively create a safe working environment with a mentally healthy workplace plan. Read our step-by-step guide to get started