Managing threatening situations as workplaces reopen

Published November 01, 2021 -
Managing Threatening Situations

The rise of conflict or violence in the workplace is an inevitable side effect that will come as more businesses across the country reopen to the vaccinated.

Data gathered from Employsure’s dedicated employer Advice Line shows a 25% drop in workplace grievances (harassment, discrimination, WHS breach) from July – September compared to January – March, due to many businesses and industries shifting to remote working during the winter period.

As Australia begins to open up to itself and soon the world, employers must ensure, to the best of their ability, the correct safeguards are in place to enable themselves and their employees to adapt and overcome threatening situations – should they ever be faced with one.

Vaccination Policing:

Employees in industries such as retail and hospitality may be exposed to potentially hostile customers as they follow health advice to only allow the vaccinated into their workplace.

Employers must set expectations and have it clearly stated aggressive behaviour will not be tolerated. However, they must also be prepared for a rise in complaints and potential aggression from customers.

Employers should undertake a risk assessment to identify whether customer aggression is a likely hazard. If a potential risk is found measures that can be taken can include:

  • Installing screens or barriers between customers and workers if practical
  • Ensuring, where possible, employees do not work alone
  • Implementing policies to deal with customer aggression and mental health impacts

Training staff to follow safe operating procedures so they know what to do in the event of a threatening situation is critical, as is ensuring staff have access to an employee assistance program service should they suffer psychological harm as a result of customer aggression.

Managing conflict:

How employers resolve a work-related risk will depend on the nature of the problem itself. While it is not always possible to remove all risks in the workplace, adjustments can be made to reduce them.

It’s recommended to have a clear policy or set of policies in place that can help identify risk and de-escalate workplace conflict or violence. An effective policy provides employees with a clear understanding of the parameters of violence and aggression, equip them with appropriate responses, and inform them of potential consequences.

“Whether it be a customer who has become hostile over COVID-19 vaccination requirements upon entry, or an argument that has escalated between co-workers, it is an employer’s responsibility, as far as is reasonably practical, to provide and maintain a safe and healthy work environment for all staff, customers or clients who enter their workplace,” said Employsure senior health and safety manager Larry Drewsen.

“Whether an employer wants to prevent internal workplace violence, or diffuse threatening situations involving customers and the general public, aside from the aforementioned policy guidelines, onsite training with a third-party provider is an effective way to give staff the skills and knowledge they need to handle a violent scenario.

“These training sessions help employees to report, recognise, and defuse a potentially threatening situation before it erupts. It also helps them to understand their, and the employer’s legal duty of care, and familiarises them with procedures to deal with armed robberies, bomb threats, conflict resolution, etc.

“Depending on the provider, employers may have the freedom to customise the contents of the training course to suit the business, so employees learn how to deal with situations that relate specifically to their worksite.

“Ahead of the busy summer period it is more important now than ever before for business owners to be proactive and ensure the correct control measures are in place to prevent and manage threatening situations to help minimise the risk of physical and psychological harm to employees and customers.”


Media enquiries:

Matthew Bridges

[email protected]

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