Work-related violence is any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. Everyone at work has a responsibility for health and safety, both physical and psychological, and to ensure that violence does not create a risk to their own or anyone else’s health and safety.

Examples of work-related violence include:

  • biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking
  • throwing objects
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
  • verbal threats
  • armed robbery
  • sexual assault
  • attacking with knives, guns, clubs or any other weapon.

Work-related violence can cause both physical and psychological harm to workers, and result in significant economic and social costs to them, their family, the business where they work and the wider community. Like all work health and safety risks it must be managed.

Preventing and responding to work-related violence

Young workers are more likely than older workers to have a mental wellbeing disorder claim due to workplace violence. They are particularly vulnerable to injury at work due to lack of experience, knowledge and life skills to understand the risks involved or their rights and responsibilities.

Our preventing and responding to work-related violence guide can help employers and workers to identify work-related violence hazards and find ways to eliminate or minimise them. The guide features a risk assessment tool, and will be useful in the development of work systems, such as a violence prevention policy, and mechanisms for responding to violent incidents.

Two types of work-related violence are covered:

  • External violence is usually associated with robbery or other crimes with the perpetrator someone from outside the workplace. It can happen in any industry but often occurs in the retail, hospitality, security, cash-handling, finance and banking industries.
  • Service related violence arises when providing services to clients, customers, patients or prisoners. It generally occurs in the hospitality, retail, health, aged care, disability, youth services, education and enforcement industries.

Free printed copies of the guide can be ordered from our Library.

Incident management

Responses to work-related violence will vary depending on the nature and severity of the incident. You should have systems in place that document what to do at the time of, and immediately after, an incident.

Physical assault, robbery, sexual assault and threats to harm someone should be reported to the police. Phone 000 for an emergency, or 131 444 for non-urgent matters.

During an incident

During an incident a range of actions may be taken including:

  • setting off the duress alarm
  • calling the police
  • implementing the internal emergency response
  • implementing the external emergency response
  • using calm verbal and non-verbal communication
  • using verbal de-escalation and distraction techniques
  • seeking support from other workers
  • asking the aggressor to leave the premises
  • retreating to a safe location.

After an incident

Immediately after an incident a range of actions may be taken including:

  • ensuring that everyone is safe
  • providing first aid or urgent medical attention
  • providing practical and emotional support for affected people
  • reporting what happened, who was affected and who was involved
  • calling the police.

Incident management

You should have a response system to address immediate safety issues, medical treatment, internal reporting and notifications required by external agencies, such as the police and SafeWork SA. Develop and implement your incident management policies and procedures in consultation with health and safety representatives and workers who are likely to be directly affected by work-related violence.

You must notify us if the incident results in a fatality, immediate hospital treatment or a range of other injuries. Safe Work Australia’s fact sheet has more information about incident notification, including site preservation.

Incident investigation

When investigating an incident, you should identify all contributing factors. The investigation will help determine how to prevent an incident recurring and how to better respond to future incidents. Investigators should be impartial and have appropriate knowledge and experience in work health and safety issues.

Further information

Work-related violence can fall within the scope of various state and federal laws. Obligations under our work health and safety laws are outlined in:

Other resources