Workplace violence

While workplace violence is recognised as a serious problem, there is no standard, universal definition of ‘workplace violence’. A commonly cited definition of workplace violence is:

Incidents where persons are abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances related to their work, involving an explicit or implicit challenge to their safety, well-being and health.

There is a general view that workplace violence can be both physical and psychological and can come from a number of perpetrators, such as customers, clients, co-workers and/or supervisors. Workplace violence can range from verbal abuse and threats to physical violence, sexual harassment and homicide.

Prevalence of workplace violence in Australia

The prevalence of workplace violence in Australia is not fully known. With the exception of work-related homicide, there is no national collection of solid, uniform statistics on workplace violence in Australia.

Collecting national data on workplace violence is problematic, due to definitional ambiguities (ie what constitutes ‘workplace violence’), the absence of a national mechanism to systematically collect data on workplace violence, and suspected under-reporting of violent incidents.

Notwithstanding this, it is clear that workplace violence is a serious issue.

In a recent survey of over 600 health professionals, teachers and police working in rural and remote Australia, 57% of respondents reported experiencing verbal abuse from community members in the past 12 months, 31% reported bullying and harassment from colleagues, 21% reported physical violence from community members and 20% reported property damage (eg deliberate damage to cars, housing office).

A number of key studies have been undertaken in the health sector to ascertain the prevalence of workplace violence. These studies suggest an even higher prevalence of physical violence. Key studies, for example, have found that around 65% of health professionals report experiencing a violent incident in the previous 12 months.

It is not clear whether workplace violence is more prevalent in rural and remote locations as opposed to urban locations. Some studies have found that that health professionals in some rural and remote locations report higher levels of violence than their urban counterparts, but no firm conclusions can be drawn from the studies, nor can results be generalised. What is clear, however, is that even if the risk profile is similar, isolation and lack of nearby support services can exacerbate the potential danger of a violent incident in rural and remote locations.

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