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Young Workers Centre YWC
News from young workers

Essential Workers and Occupational Violence

I know, it seems obvious. But it seems with the panic people need to be reminded that *everyone* is under a great deal of pressure. And no one deserves to be disrespected, threatened or abused at work.

Healthcare Workers

You may have seen campaigns in the media about treating healthcare workers with respect. According to Worksafe, approximately 95% of healthcare workers have experienced occupational violence. 95%. That means pretty much all healthcare workers are bracing themselves to deal with this.

Most people imagine occupational violence looking like physical assault, however there are other acts that can leave healthcare workers feeling threatened at work.

This can include verbal abuse, and intimidating and aggressive behaviour such as standing over the worker or getting very close to them. Even worse, repeated exposure to these events can have a significant ongoing effect on workers’ health.

In 2017, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation put together a 10 point plan to end violence and protect Victorian healthcare workers. This includes creating standards, such as having specially trained security staff, personal duress alarms, and regular audits to ensure safety.

It also means identifying the risk of a patient or their family being aggressive or violent towards staff prior to admission, and monitored throughout their stay. They also call out the “culture of not reporting violent incidents”. These are important protocol changes that will help keep healthcare workers safe.

The Worksafe website notes that, yes, sometimes those people are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or “not of full capacity of mind”. However, just as, if not more, often it’s people under stress who lash out at workers. That's no excuse for this behaviour though.

Worksafe suggests that if you find yourself getting overwhelmed in a situation, try to remove yourself until you are in a better frame of mind. If you need time out from shopping for the essentials, or the aged care home where your family member is, take a walk outside or a trip to the bathroom to calm down and rationalise your behaviour.

Retail and Fast Food Workers

The SDA’s campaign No One Deserves a Serve in 2017 found that over 85% of retail and fast food workers had been abused at work, with nearly a quarter experiencing it weekly. I'm sure this number has gone up since the pandemic started.

It’s not just being abused or talked down to in the supermarket. It’s also having to witness violence between customers and the expectation that service workers serve as a shield to break up arguments.

People like to think that this just “happens sometimes” and can’t be fixed. However there are proactive steps that your employer must take to ensure a safe workplace, and prevent these occurrences. It's possible!

Customers can be removed or permanently banned from stores if their behaviour persists. They should be told why their behaviour is inappropriate. Reporting processes should be in place that allow workers to feel safe enough to speak up and report incidents.

Workers should receive training to understand the ways that they can deal with incidents to keep themselves safe. They should also feel supported through counselling and/or breaks from work.

If your workplace is not dealing with these issues appropriately, give the Young Workers Centre a call on 1800 714 754 or speak to your union.