Occupational violence and risky workplaces

Monday 3 June 2019
Catherine Sim

Occupational violence can occur in any workplace, however some workplaces are higher risk than others. 

Some common risks for workplace violence have been identified as:

  • Workplaces where alcohol is served, such as bars, nightclubs and sporting events.
  • Workplaces where clients have disabilities that cause behavioural or impulse issues, such as schools, hospitals or aged care homes.
  • Workplaces that are isolated, such as a security guard working alone, or workers who attend on client’s homes.
  • Workplaces of high stress and emotion, such as hospital emergency rooms.

There are a number of things employers can do to help minimise and reduce the risk of exposing their employees to occupational violence.  Employees are also entitled to flag with their employer if they believe they are working in a high risk environment.

The Victorian WorkCover Authority recently ran an advertising campaign relating to violence against healthcare staff, such as paramedics, nurses and aged care workers.  In their campaign the VWA reported that a staggering 95% of healthcare workers had experienced physical or verbal assault.

Whilst a physical assault can leave a worker with a physical injury, it can also cause a psychological condition.  This can occur regardless of whether it is a single instance of assault or repeated instances.  Whilst an injury, either physical or psychological, as a result of occupational violence in the course of a worker’s employment may entitle a worker to a claim for weekly payments and medical and like expenses, it becomes more complicated when looking towards larger lump sum compensation. 

Can an employer be held liable?

Injuries sustained as a result of an assault can prove problematic when assessing whether the employer was negligent in the cause of the injury.  The current law will require an assessment of the individual circumstances of each case. 

It becomes increasingly difficult when dealing with the criminal act of a third party, such as a customer assaulting an employee, or an injury sustained in a robbery.  In those circumstances, it would need to have been foreseeable that such criminal conduct would occur in order to determine the employer negligent. 

Whilst the concept of occupational violence is geared towards the employees as the receivers of the violence, it is also important to think about violence used by employees to patrons, other staff or clients. 

In some circumstances, an employer can be held responsible for an employee’s criminal acts, depending on the role of the employee and the nature of their employment.  One such notable case involves an employee working as a boarding house master and using his position to sexually abuse the children in his care. 

As each case is unique, if you have been injured as a result of occupational violence, either as a worker or otherwise, we recommend you contact our office for a no-obligation chat on (03) 9321 9988. 

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