Employer guilty of failing to prevent threatening behaviour

'Violence and aggression should never be seen as part of the job'

Employer guilty of failing to prevent threatening behaviour

An employer was found guilty after a court found that it failed to prevent the exposure of its clients and staff to health and safety dangers in the workplace.

After pleading guilty to a single offence under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (formerly DHHS) and Victorian Person Centred Services Limited were sentenced in Melbourne County Court.

Without conviction, the department was fined $55,000 for failing to guarantee that individuals other than workers were not exposed to health and safety dangers. The Victorian Person Centred Services was likewise fined the same amount and without conviction for failing to provide or maintain safe working conditions, according to WorkSafe Victoria.

Dangerous incident

In August 2015, a child with an intellectual impairment and a history of aggressive behavior was put into a department-owned residential care facility in Moe maintained by Victorian Person-Centred Services.

Several staff members were exposed to abusive behaviors, including being punched and kicked by the child on multiple occasions while the latter was living at the residence over a period of months.

The court heard that both duty-holders should ensure that the child’s behavioural management and support documentation “did not discourage workers from taking refuge in the home’s office when facing threatening behaviour,” according to WorkSafe Victoria.

It also said that it was “reasonably practical” for Victorian Person-Centred Services to avoid rostering personnel who were “at a greater risk of assault by the child.”

Systems and processes needed

According to WorkSafe executive director for health and safety, Narelle Beer, duty-holders must have systems and processes in place to minimise or limit as many hazards to workers’ health and safety as practicable.

“There is no excuse for failing to address the risk of occupational violence and aggression, even in workplaces facing complex physical and mental welfare challenges,” Dr. Beer said.

“No matter the situation, violence and aggression should never be seen as part of the job.”

According to WorkSafe Victoria, the following should be done by employers:

  • Identify occupational violence and aggression hazards in the workplace and assess the risks.
  • Consult with workers to implement controls to eliminate or reduce the risk.
  • Promote a culture that does not accept violence and aggression.
  • Develop and implement health and safety policies and initiatives focused on occupational violence and aggression.
  • Encourage reporting and act on these reports by investigating incidents and reviewing existing controls.
  • Support staff development in de-escalation and processes for early intervention and management.
  • Allocate resources to prevention and management.
  • Support employees who have been exposed to occupational violence and aggression in the workplace.

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