Assault in the Workplace

Violence in the workplace is a serious issue, that is an unfortunate reality for many workers, to this day. Whether the violence is caused by a co-worker or by a person external to the workplace, workplace assault not something that should be taken lightly.

Work-related violence is most common in industries where people work with the public or external clients. Work-related violence can happen in any industry, however occupations that are most likely to be affected include:
  • Doctors, nurses, ambulance officers, welfare workers, personal carers, hotel receptionists, waiters and housekeeping staff;
  • Police offices, prison guards, teachers, probation offices and debt collectors;
  • Front-office staff, call centre staff, cashiers and security guards;
  • Bus drivers, taxi drivers, couriers pilots and cabin crew;
  • Sales people, those who work alone or in remote locations, and shift workers.

More recently the health industry seems to be taking a battering with attacks on hospital staff on the increase.

Violence at the Ipswich Hospital has historically been particularly bad, with assaults on staff among one of the worst in the state when compared to other facilities. Previous West Moreton Hospital and Health Service figures had revealed there were:

  • 320 physical assaults reported between 2012 and 2013; and
  • 231 physical assaults reported between 2013 and 2014; and
  • 242 physical assaults reported between 2014 and 2015.

A Queensland Government taskforce has been set up and is currently reviewing the escalating incidents of attacks on front-line emergency services staff following a spate of attacks on paramedics.

Recently a Gold Coast paramedic suffered up to 60 blows to the head in a ruthless attack by a man he was treating.

Putting the criminal aspect of these assaults aside the realisation of this assault is that a worker has sustained a work-related injury.

So can an employee make a claim for damages against their employer for their injury, even those arising from a workplace assault?

An employer has a primary duty of care to ensure the health and safety of their workers in the workplace. They must also provide and maintain a safe and healthy working environment. If they fail in this duty and an employee is injured then they may be liable in a claim for negligence.

Employers should be aware of the risk of any potential violence that could be directed towards their employees and have in place methods to prevent and manage these work-related violence risks. Employers should also make decisions about information and training on work-related violence.

To manage the risks of work-related violence and workplace assault employers should:
  • Identify the hazards and assess the risks to determine: What could harm workers? How likely it is that harm may occur? How serious the harm could be?
  • Control the risks of violence occurring; and
  • Review and improve the effectiveness of control measures to ensure prevention measures are working as planned and, when necessary, are improved.

So if an employer of an occupation that is most likely to be effected by violence fails to identify the very high risk of this violence occurring, and therefore fails to have in place measures to reduce the risk of violence occurring, then the employer may be liable in negligence to the injured worker.

Whether an employer will be liable in negligence in less risky occupations will depend upon the circumstances of how the incident occurred.

Regardless of whether the employer has been negligent or not a worker injured by violence is entitled to receiver workers compensation benefits from WorkCover Queensland. These benefits include payments for medical expenses, travel expenses, wages etc.

Workplace assault and violence is a very real issue, especially for those working in occupations where this occurs frequently. Employers must be aware of potential violence hazards and have in place preventative measures to keep their employees safe. Employees too must be properly trained in violence control measures and know what to do if a workplace violence hazard occurs.

With the proper methods in place hopefully we will see the occurrence of workplace assault and violence dramatically reduce.

In the event that you or someone you know suffers a work-related injury, we can help. We provide Free Case Reviews, to help you understand your options and if you open a claim with us we will always act for you on our No Win, No Fee, No Problems guarantee.

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