Workplace violence gets worse



Tuesday 22 February 2000


Workplace violence is escalating worldwide, with health workers among those with the greatest risk of suffering abuse on the job.

The trend emerges from a study of three separate surveys that concludes that workplace violence is widespread, transcends global boundaries and is of growing national and international significance.

An Australian Institute of Criminology report says that last year 73 per cent of doctors surveyed in rural Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia had been victims of work-related abuse - verbal insults and threats, property damage, physical and sexual harassment, and physical violence.

Doctors in remote areas saw themselves to be most at risk and some required an escort to accompany them on house calls. Only 38 percent cent of those surveyed did not fear making home visits, while one in two male doctors reported being abused.

Data from NSW WorkCover compensation claims showed registered nurses the second most likely group to claim compensation for being physically attacked.

They were second only to guards and security officers.

The report found that no industry or occupation was immune from workplace violence and abusive encounters were not restricted to clients or customers.

Of the workers who responded to a poll quoted in the report, 46 percent cent of those who alleged verbal abuse of some kind said it was from a manager or co-worker. A further 7 percent cent said they had suffered physical abuse from colleagues.

Workers most commonly murdered on the job were from the community sector, with police and medical workers comprising 24 per cent of workplace homicides.

The wholesale and retail trade sector was also a dangerous place to work, claiming 22 percent cent of workplace homicides, as was the “recreation and personal” sector that includes brothels (20 percent cent).

Perceptions of bullying also had increased. The tourism industry led, with more than 20 percent cent reporting growing problems. Medical, health and pharmaceutical employers expressed concerns (15.4 percent cent), as did the legal profession, government and media industries.

The federal Justice Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone, said violence in the workplace should not be tolerated. She said thousands of workers faced the prospect of vicious verbal or physical attack daily and the problem could be costing Australia millions of dollars.

But she said the onus to improve the situation did not rest with the law.  “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.”

She said workplace violence could be modified as long as people were aware of the importance of the issue and the scope of the problem.