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Published: 26 June 2017
Author: Ryan Carlisle Thomas

Victoria taking the right steps to reduce violence and aggression against health workers

Up to 95 % of Victoria health care workers have experienced physical or verbal abuse, a new ad campaign by WorkSafe Victoria reports.

The campaign identifies that our health workers are facing violence perpetrated by not only those under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but also by “everyday people” who react aggressively to stress.

In addition to the ad campaign,  the Victorian Government recently promised to double its funding for initiatives aimed at ending violence and aggression in Victoria’s hospitals and mental health services by investing an additional $20 million in the Health Service Violence Prevention Fund.

Non-physical violence is a growing concerning at work

Clearly physical violence in the workplace is of grave concern. Importantly, however, WorkSafe Victoria recognises that the health of our nurses, paramedics, aged care workers and doctors is being affected by not only physical violence, but also by non-physical forms of abuse such as aggressive language or intimidating behaviour.

These forms of abuse, which might in certain circumstances constitute a form of workplace bullying, can be extremely damaging. Someone who is bullied in the workplace has an increased chance of suffering from serious mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or even suicidal thoughts or actions, according to research by Beyond Blue. Bullying in the workplace also has a significant impact on the employer’s business, and also the wider economy -  in 2012 the Federal Government estimated that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy somewhere between $6 billion and $36 billion per year.

The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) campaign

Violence in the workplace is, unfortunately, not a new problem faced by our health workers. The Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (Victorian Branch) (ANMF) has been campaigning long and hard for robust action to tackle the workplace violence and aggression suffered by nurses and aged care workers. 

In a recent media release, the ANMF praised WorkSafe Victoria’s ad campaign, and the broader work being done by the Victorian Government, in tackling the issue.

The Victorian Branch Secretary of the ANMF, Lisa Fitzpatrick, said that in addition to the great practical and monetary steps taken to date, there also needs to be a focus on cultural change.

In particular, Ms Fitzpatrick calls on the CEOs and boards of hospitals “to drive the changes so that all levels of management embrace a safer way of doing things”, noting that “we know anecdotally that the culture of accepting violence as part of the job is changing in hospitals where the CEO actually chairs the occupational violence and aggression committee.”

What the law can do for victims of workplace violence or aggression

A health worker who suffers violence or aggression at work should always report the relevant incident as soon as practicable. Ideally the incident should be reported in writing and verbally to the appropriate manager and/or occupational health and safety officer. 

There are various legal schemes that may be of assistance to victims of workplace violence or aggression:

  • Clearly, if someone has been the victim of violence or has had their safety threatened then this should be reported to the police immediately. Depending on the circumstances, a personal violence intervention order may be obtained from a Magistrate to protect the victim from further violence or aggression. Such an order, for example, might require the perpetrator to stay a certain distance from the victim’s place of work.
  • If the perpetrator has behaved aggressively on a repeated basis, and there is an ongoing risk to health safety as a result, there may be grounds for the victim to apply to the Fair Work Commission for a stop bullying order.
  • If a crime is committed against a worker and they suffer a physical or psychological injury as a result then the worker may have grounds to apply for financial assistance under the victims of crime scheme.
  • If a worker is injured or has a reduced work capacity as a result of workplace violence or aggression, then they may have various rights under the workplace injury scheme which provides for weekly payments and/or financial assistance for medical expenses, amongst other things.

If you need advice in relation to work related violence or aggression please call Ryan Carlisle Thomas on 1300 366 441 or visit rctlaw.com.au.

 

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