Workplace Violence in Australia: Risks and Protective Measures

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Workplace violence in Australia is a significant concern, with various forms of aggression and abuse reported across different sectors. The Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 497,300 workers, or 3.5% of the working population, experienced work-related injuries or illnesses in 2021-22, a decrease from previous years but still a substantial figure​​. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) reported 500 accepted workers’ compensation claims due to assault or exposure to workplace violence between 2017-18 and 2020-21, highlighting the persistent issue of workplace aggression. Notably, women and younger workers were disproportionately represented in these claims, emphasizing the need for targeted protective measures for these groups​​.

Almost 20% of Australian workers have reported discomfort due to sexual humour, and there are significant numbers of workers facing physical assault or threats, particularly from patients or clients. The impact of such workplace violence extends beyond immediate physical harm, contributing to 39% of mental disorder claims and 15% of mental stress claims caused by harassment, bullying, or exposure to violence​​. The financial implications are also staggering, with outdated estimates of the annual cost of workplace violence to the Australian economy ranging from $6 billion to $36 billion, a figure that has likely increased over the years​​.

To mitigate these risks, Australia has implemented various measures. Safe Work Australia offers guidance on preventing and responding to workplace violence and aggression, emphasizing the importance of a safe physical work environment and safe systems of work​​. The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws mandate that persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) manage health and safety risks associated with workplace violence and aggression. This includes risks from both internal sources, such as co-workers, and external sources like customers or clients​​​​.

Risk management is a crucial aspect of this approach, involving the identification and assessment of hazards associated with workplace violence and aggression​​. Employees face risks of violence from various sources, including co-workers, supervisors, managers, and even former employees, with common forms of violence including harassment, bullying, peer pressure, and verbal or physical abuse​​.

Particular Risks Faced by Lone Workers

Lone workers, those who work by themselves without close or direct supervision, face unique risks compared to their colleagues in more populated work environments. The primary risk is the lack of immediate support in case of an emergency, whether it’s a health issue, an accident, or a confrontation with a hostile individual. This isolation can be particularly hazardous in remote locations where assistance may not be readily available. Additionally, lone workers often lack the deterrent effect of numbers, making them more vulnerable to acts of violence or aggression. There’s also the challenge of ensuring that lone workers are following safety protocols and practices when no one is around to monitor compliance. These risks necessitate a proactive approach to safety for individuals in such positions.

To mitigate these risks, a variety of personal protection devices and systems are employed. One common solution is the use of emergency signal devices, often carried as part of a worker’s equipment, which can be activated to send an immediate distress signal to a central monitoring system or directly to emergency services. GPS tracking devices are also widely used, allowing employers to monitor the location of lone workers in real-time, which is especially crucial in remote or hazardous areas. Wearable lone worker security devices with emergency functions, can detect falls or sudden impacts, automatically sending alerts in such situations.

In addition, more traditional communication devices, such as two-way radios or mobile phones may be employed, for maintaining regular contact and ensuring that workers can reach out for help when needed. These devices, combined with regular safety training and clear protocols for lone workers, form a critical part of a comprehensive approach to ensuring their safety and well-being.

In conclusion, while the prevalence of workplace violence in Australia is a concerning issue, there are structured measures and legal frameworks in place to help protect employees. By adhering to these guidelines and continually evolving their approach to worker safety, companies can significantly reduce the risks of workplace violence, especially for vulnerable groups such as lone workers and those in remote areas.

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