Fires lit at the Fair Work Ombudsman offices

by Stephanie Zillman05 Sep 2012

The Fair Work Ombudsman is reviewing its security following an incident at its Sydney office in Elizabeth Street yesterday morning.

The workplace watchdog issued a statement which said the building was evacuated following the incident and police and emergency services were called to the site – all 500 staff were safely evacuated but the incident has sparked calls that a thorough review of security processed may be required.

According to police, a man stormed into the building before lighting up to four fires and yelling at staff. A police spokesman said officers were still investigating the unknown man’s motive, but that at this stage there was nothing to indicate the man was a current or former employee.

In the 11-storey building which is mostly federal government agencies, Detective Inspector John Maricic said he understood most floors could be accessed by the public. He also said staff observed the man carrying something, but he could not confirm whether it was a knife or sword of some kind.

The incident follows a similar recent episode in Adelaide, whereby a man entered an internet provider’s offices, threatening to burn down the building while armed with an axe. Reports of incidents of workplace violence have HR concerned because, legally, employers have an obligation to ensure their employees are safe from any such situations.

A Massey University survey last year found at least a third of employees had suffered violence at work, but a violence prevention consultation said the real figure was probably significantly higher. To help create a safer work environment and decrease the chance of workplace violence, the Crisis Prevention Institute, which operates in both Australia and New Zealand offered HR the following tips:

1. Assess the work environment
Critically examine all areas of your work environment – including parking lots, entryways, reception areas, work areas, and offices. Check that lighting is adequate, that there are convenient escape routes, and that there is a way to summon assistance.

2. Pay attention to warning signs
Many people who become violent communicate their intentions in advance. Threats from customers, co-workers, or third parties should be recorded and reported immediately.

3. Promote respect
The best way to prevent violence in the workplace is to foster a day-to-day attitude of respect and consideration in your work environment.

4. Eliminate potential weapons
Take a mental inventory of objects around your immediate work area which could be potential weapons. Remove or secure objects that could be thrown.

5. Devise, and communicate, violence response procedures
Violence response procedures are simple plans designed to minimise injury during a violent incident. Such procedures should include a plan to summon assistance and move people to a safe area.

6. Always trust your instincts
Don’t ignore your internal warning system. If you sense impending danger, react accordingly.

7. Employ a team approach
Implement and encourage the use of a “buddy system” for any situations in which hostility could occur.


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