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Violence has no place in the workplace

Media Release

21 February 2000

Media release from Senator, the Hon Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Justice and Customs

Violence in the workplace should not be tolerated, Minister for Justice and Customs, Senator Amanda Vanstone, said today in releasing a report from the Australian Institute of Criminology: Violence in the Workplace.

"Violence in the workplace affects all industrial sectors and occupations and often carries a large cost for both employees and employers," Senator Vanstone said.

"Many workers face violence or the threat of violence almost daily. While we often hear through the media about the worst cases, such as a work experience student who was strung up in a harness and had a fire set beneath him, violence in the workplace can be much more insidious. No one should be fooled into thinking that violence in the workplace is typified by the rare and extreme examples reported in media. Thousands of workers daily face the prospect or risk of vicious verbal or physical attack.

"Verbal insults and threats, sexual abuse, property damage, harassment and physical violence such as punching, slapping kicking or threats with a weapon can for some, become all too familiar in the workplace.

"Some industries or occupations face a higher risk of violence in the workplace. Police officers and cab drivers and health workers such as nurses may encounter violent, drug affected and abusive people in the course of any normal working day.

"Last year 73% of doctors working in rural areas reported they had been the victims of work-related abuse. Some doctors in remote areas are so concerned about the risk of assault that they require escorts to accompany them on home calls. 62% of doctors indicated that they feared making home visits.

"The hospitality industry is also another industry which, it appears from the limited research available in Australia, is one where workers report a high level of abuse, most often verbal.

"This report from the Australian Institute of Criminology is an important early step in understanding the extent of workplace violence and its impact on individuals and companies," Senator Vanstone said.

The report highlights that the effects of workplace violence do not stop with the immediate victim, that organisations and society in general suffers consequent losses.

While the cost of violence in the workplace is extremely difficult to quantify, the AIC report points to a 1992 study in America which put the cost to employers at between $4 billion and $6.2 billion annually.

"Translated to Australia, that suggests that workplace violence could be costing hundreds of millions of dollars in this country.

"Workplace violence damages the victim, and costs the business through lost productivity and long periods of rehabilitation and restoration.

"There is no problem with the law, or law enforcement. We have the laws in place. In many cases the problem lies in the culture of some organisations.

"Recently a Melbourne apprentice fitter and turner was subjected to ongoing practices of intimidation and bastardisation between the ages of 17 and 21. This included having grease applied to his genitals, paint put through his hair, being rolled around in a 44 gallon drum, having his overalls pinned in a vice, and being compelled to bring a cake to work under threat of having a grease gun inserted into his anus. This worker also witnessed a work-experience student being strung up in a safety harness and having a fire set alight beneath him. The victim took civil action against the company.

"It is clear that many risks can be modified by simple measures and by sensible management, so long as people are aware of the importance of the issue and the scope of workplace violence, from verbal insults and threats, sexual abuse, property damage, harassment, and physical violence such as punching, slapping, kicking and threats with a weapon."


Worst affected industries and occupations

Worst affected industries by rank order
  • Health
  • Welfare and community services
  • Restaurants, hotels and clubs
  • Education
  • Property and business services
  • Retail trade
  • Public administration
  • Road and rail transportation

Total: 85 per cent of all violence major claims

Worst affected occupations by rank order
  • Miscellaneous labourers and related workers (includes guards, security officers and ward helpers)
  • Registered nurses
  • Miscellaneous para-professionals (includes welfare and community workers and prison officers)
  • Personal service workers (includes refuge workers, enrolled nurses, home companions and family aides)
  • Police
  • Road and rail transport drivers
  • School teachers
  • Miscellaneous salespersons (includes bar attendants, waiters and waitresses)
  • Social professionals (includes community social workers and social case workers)
  • Managing supervisors (sales and services-includes shop, restaurant, hotel, post office, railway station managers)

Total: 74 per cent of all violence major claims

(Source: WorkCover NSW, cited in Russell 1999)