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Understand the risks and protect your staff : Preventing Occupational Violence

Published in 2020, the Australian Security Research Centre (ASRC) research report Occupational Violence, Aggression and Duty of Care in Australia illustrates just how vulnerable Australia’s frontline workers are, writes Optic Security Group Managing Director Mark Lloyd.

Occupational Violence and Aggression (OVA) is a big deal, and it’s a larger area of risk than many organisations acknowledge. That’s according to an ASRC reported authored by Dr Gavriel Schneider, Dr Paul Johnston, and Joe Saunders, which paints a not-so-pretty picture of OVA in the frontline industries of:

Health Sector Staff Security

· Retail and customer service,

· Healthcare and aged care services,

· Education and training,

· Banking and financial services,

· Liquor and hospitality, and

· Private security

Safe Work Australia defines OVA as “any incident where a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work.” According to the report, approximately 75% of the aggression reported by respondents was perpetrated by customers, students, or bystanders, and an eye-opening aspect of the report was the extent to which it found these behaviours to have become ‘normalised’.

OVA was accepted as either “normal” or a “regular part of the job” by more than half of the respondents, with 45% of respondents indicating that it would be reasonable to expect “one or more incidents of violence per year” in their duties. Over 36% reported experiencing it at least five times in a year.

32% of respondents reported a physical injury as a result of violence or aggression in the workplace, while a staggering 76% or more reported receiving an emotional/psychological injury. Over 41% indicated they required time off work as a result of the violence and aggression they had experienced.

In relation to control measures to counter OVA, 68% of respondents did not believe their organisation provided adequate preventative measures to protect them, with most systems tending to focus on resilience and response instead of prevention and preparation.

Specifically, according to the respondents, CCTV cameras were heavily relied upon (46.4%), followed by duress buttons (24.5%), the proximity of security officers (26.51%), and the presence of barriers (19.88%) and grills/shutters (7.49%), with other controls including access control, general staff proximity, and phone/email-based call for assistance systems. Interestingly, 27% indicated that no controls were present.

In addition to policies, procedures and training, the report recommended that ‘prevention and preparation’ initiatives in the areas of ‘limiting risk exposure’ and ‘infrastructure and protective design’ be considered:

Limiting Risk Exposure

The report resonated with me in relation to this area. In essence, a big part of preparing for and preventing occupational violence comes down to good old risk management principles.

Whether you base your approach on ISO 31000 Risk Management, HB 167 Security Risk Management, or ASIS ESRM Enterprise Security Risk Management, it starts with understanding the organisation’s relationship with risk. As the report’s authors state, it’s about leading from the top “whereby the appropriate appetite, tolerance and attitude are driven by organisational leaders to tackle the issue of OVA.”

They suggest that work systems that remove or restrict the requirement for staff to work in isolation be established, and that a risk-based approach to determining work schedules and practices be adopted.

They also recommend applying a ‘Whole of Person Model’ in relation especially to offsite and remote workers, which focuses on the need to develop safe and effective practices that transcend work life, personal life, and virtual life.

Infrastructure and Protective Design

Given the abovementioned risk-based thinking, it’s no surprise that the authors focus their physical and electronic security control recommendations around those controls aimed at prevention as opposed to response and recovery. Deterrence through visibility and messaging being a key area.

“Improved lighting and visibility of work colleagues, work areas and access points should be ensured,” states the report. Visible CCTV/security cameras should be installed with associated signage, along with “signage indicating that aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated, and that offenders will be prosecuted etc.”

Physical security elements were also stressed. According to the report, toughened glass panels should be installed, if appropriate, and CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles should be utilised in facility/infrastructure design and layout.

‘Weapons of opportunity’ in work areas “should be risk assessed to determine the necessity of them remaining accessible,” it states. “Furnishings are to be secured and/or their characteristics considered so as to restrict damage if thrown, or otherwise used as a weapon/barricade,” and clear access and egress should be ensured with any obstacles to staff evacuation removed.

In a nod to security awareness, the report recommends that staff identification cards and electronic access cards be issued, and – importantly – that their use be enforced.

“Discreet static duress alarms are to be installed within easy reach at workstations,” it continues, as well as “discreet personal duress alarms” particularly in the case of workers conducting external site visits or otherwise working remotely.

Considered in isolation, these are basic control measures, and it is surprising that they are clearly absent or inadequately deployed in many workplaces where the risks dictate that they should be considered as standard. Ultimately, these controls should be considered in aggregate and deployed as integrated elements of a layered approach to managing security risk.

OVA is evidently a larger area of risk than many organisations currently acknowledge. Given this, the report’s authors comment that for those organisations with public facing staff, “OVA should really be thought of as a strategic risk with the appropriate risk-based methodology supporting its treatment.”

Get in touch

At Optic Security Group we’ve built a strong reputation for designing and delivering security risk management solutions and outcomes for clients in a range of sectors from government to retail, healthcare to education. Please get in touch with me if you’d like to discuss how we might be able to support you in keeping your people safe and your assets secure:


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