One in five workers have experienced violence and harassment

More than one in five workers have experienced violence and harassment and OHS plays a key role in helping mitigate and manage associated risks, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).Violence and harassment can affect all types of workplaces and can also occur during commutes, work-related trips, events, digital communications, social activities and in home-based offices.

According to an ILO report Preventing and addressing violence and harassment in the world of work through occupational safety and health measures, OHS frameworks tackle root causes of violence and harassment by addressing underlying risks such as inadequate work organisation, factors related to specific tasks (such as working alone or constantly interacting with third parties), and working conditions that produce high stress levels that in turn lead to violence and harassment.

“In terms of long-term and workplace-related strategies to tackle violence and harassment in the world of work, OHS represents one of the most direct entry points for addressing the problem,” the report said.

“Focusing on the working environment and acting at the collective level, OHS is well equipped to address the root causes of violence and harassment at work, provides structural and systematic responses to violence and harassment, and has the capacity to mobilise actors in the world of work in the pursuit of a common goal addressing workplace violence and harassment.”

This approach, based on a system of mutual rights and obligations between workers and employers, can facilitate implementation of strategies to prevent violence and harassment through social dialogue and by building a collective commitment to creating working environments free from violence and harassment, according to the ILO.

The report also found that two-thirds of provisions on and in relation to workplace violence and harassment in 25 countries are found in labour and OHS legislation.

Last year, research from the McKell Institute, commissioned by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association found that 85 per cent of retail workers have been abused or assaulted at work.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said customer aggression – including assaults – has remained prevalent post-pandemic, prompting the need for government intervention.

“Customer aggression has been an ongoing challenge for frontline staff. We saw a big rise in the number of customers who chose to unleash their frustrations on retail staff during the pandemic. We expected this to subside when restrictions lifted – but it simply hasn’t,” Zahra said.

“In many states across Australia, deterrence is lacking. Aggressive behaviour in the form of assault has a severe impact on the health and wellbeing of frontline retail staff but, importantly, it’s also a criminal act and it must be treated as such.”