Work-related violence and aggression (WVA) is a risk for those who work directly with the public. Retail is an industry that presents an increased risk of exposure to WVA.
Acts of aggression and violence can cause serious physical or physiological injuries and in some cases be fatal. It is crucial retail businesses are aware of and manage the risks associated with WVA to ensure the health and safety of team members.
Prevalence of WVA in Retail (in QLD)
- 81% increase in WVA claims in Queensland since 2016
- 2/3 of accepted claims were under 44 years of age
- 114% increase in WVA claims in retail
- 54% of all lodged claims were for anxiety or stress disorder
- 75% of accepted claims were for women
- 1 in 5 workers do not return to work in retail post injury
Duty of care to retail workers
Health and safety laws are designed to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of workers and others on the job. This includes both physical and psychological wellbeing.
Under health and safety laws, retailers have a primary duty of care to ensure that the health and safety of workers is not put at risk from WVA. This includes ensuring:
- the work environment is designed to manage risks associated with WVA
- policies and procedures are implemented to prevent and respond to incidents of WVA
- team members are provided with information about how to prevent and respond to WVA during their induction and ongoing training
- support systems are in place for team members who are exposed to incidents of WVA
In 2018 a 43-year-old meat processor in Queensland sustained both physical and phycological injuries when he was the victim of a violent workplace assault by a co-worker.
The victim had given evidence that he had told his supervisor that his co-worker had been intimidating and had bragged about his violent past after which the victim had requested to be moved to a different section of the workplace to avoid contact with him. There was an aggressive verbal interaction at the workplace a few days later which led to an altercation, in which the supervisor had to intervene. It was after this that the victim was violently assaulted.
The Judge found:
- the employer knew the co-worker had a violent past
- the employer should have separated both workers in the workplace, failure to do so was a breach of duty
- the assault was unlikely to occur if they were not working adjacent to each other
Based on the findings, the employer was liable for the assault and the victim’s injury, and the victim was awarded damages of $584,000
If an employer is on notice of a foreseeable risk of an assault, the employer has a duty to take reasonable precautions to prevent that, and failure to do so may make them liable.
As a first step, retailers should attempt to eliminate the WVA risk. If this is not possible, it is important to minimise the risk as far as reasonably practicable. Multiple controls are required for preventing and responding to WVA, such as environmental controls and safe systems of work.
Examples of what retailers can do:
- Identify violence and aggression hazards and assess the risk
- Implement controls to eliminate or reduce the risk of WVA (e.g. limit the amount of cash or valuables on the premises, increase security measures)
- Ensure effective health and safe work systems are in place to identify and control risk
- Provide training in how to deal with difficult customers, conflict resolution and de-escalating aggressive behaviour.
- Promote a work culture that does not accept violence and aggression
- Reports should be encouraged and investigated, ensure existing controls are reviewed
- Support employees who have been exposed to WVA in the workplace
WorkSafe QLD has published a new WVA in Retail guide. Retailers are urged to review their WVA processes and practices with reference to the new guidelines.
Disclaimer: The material within this update is provided for general information and educational purposes in summary form on topics which are current when it is first published. The content does not constitute legal advice or recommendations and should not be relied upon as such.