Physical assault is very distressing to those who experience it both from physical and psychological perspectives. It can include assault, sexual assault or threat of assault by a co-worker or by a member of the public. The response will often be varied depending of the specifics of the incident but there should be clear policies and training in the workplace on how to respond to violence. This can include:

  • Training in calm communication methods, de-escalation, and distraction techniques.
  • Requesting the aggressor leave or terminating communication in the case of verbal abuse via phone or email.
  • Requesting support of colleagues.
  • Alerting security personnel.
  • Triggering alarms.
  • Retreat to a secure area.

A lot of the procedures instituted by a workplace will be specific to the industry and location. For instance, a busy bar will likely experience lots of aggressive incidents in a given year and will rely on de-escalation and security staff to respond to them, a bank on the other hand may have a number of low-level incidents requiring de-escalation but is also going to have procedures for any potential major incidents such as alarms and security screens.

Following any violent incident, the following procedure should be adhered to:

  • Ensure workers are safe and address any immediate safety concerns, including securing the area if needed.
  • Provide first aid if required.
  • Report any assaults, sexual assaults, or threats of assault to the police – any criminal activity should always be immediately reported.
  • Provide support to any individuals as required, this may be physical or psychological.
  • Record all details of the incident including parties involved, location, what happened, and the immediate outcome.


Procedures for Dealing with Psychological Injuries

Though there are unfortunate circumstances of major physical injuries at work with prolonged or life changing impact, on average psychological injuries at work are far more damaging than their physical counterparts. This is largely because psychological injuries have a much slower recovery time on average. As with other health and safety hazards prevention is far better than cure is responding to psychological hazards. Considering factors such as working conditions, duties and expectations, unreasonable workloads, poor compensation, fair treatment and quality of leadership can go a long way to preventing many potential psychological injuries before they occur.

The best response to psychological injury is to be supportive fair and collaborative. The situation should be investigated, and appropriate action taken. This may involve counselling, sick leave, and a rehabilitation and return to work plan.

Abuse, harassment, and bullying are all forms of workplace violence and should be dealt with in the same way as any other hazard. This means the risk of them taking place must be eliminated or reduced wherever possible and if it happens it should be responded to in line with safe work guidelines. This will include supporting the worker who has been abused, harassed or bullied, investigating the incident, providing ongoing training to all workers around harassment and bullying, disciplinary action or dismissal (depending on circumstances and severity) if the abuse has been from another employee, and reports to the police if the abuse is at a criminal level.

Abuse, whether physical or psychological, is not acceptable and should be rooted out in any workplace and the workers subjected to it supported.

OHS Responsibilities

Workplaces have several responsibilities relating to occupational health and safety and a duty of care to their workers. These include:
  • Provision of a safe working environment.
  • Provision of well-maintained work facilities that meet legally acceptable standards.
  • Provision of training, information, and supervision to workers on safety procedures.
  • Ensure safe use and storage of all equipment, machinery, structures, materials, and substances in the workplace.
  • Monitor conditions in the workplace and the health of workers.
  • Maintain an incident/injury register.
  • Provide workers compensation, rehabilitation and return to work procedures.

If the worst does happen and a worker is injured in some way then there should be procedures in place to help the worker while recovering and to assist them in returning to work.