Unions call for action on occupational violence against frontline workers

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) has called on politicians and industry to take action on occupational violence against healthcare workers after a survey revealed 69 per cent of staff have either been assaulted or witnessed an assault in the workplace.

It also found that 64 per cent of workers felt they weren’t given adequate support from their employer and 70 per cent don’t think there are enough security officers at their facility (or don’t have any at all).

Furthermore, 74 per cent believe that their training is insufficient in regard to workplace violence (17 per cent saying they never received any training at all) and 67 per cent of security officers don’t feel supported when they have to physically engage with someone at work.

The AWU survey of 1279 Queensland health workers from 114 Queensland Health facilities across the state was conducted between January and April this year, and took in responses from security officers, nurses, cleaners, wardspeople, food services workers, health professionals and administration staff. 

It also found 69 per cent of security officers feel like they don’t have the training they need to perform their role and 63 per cent of security officers don’t feel like they have the protective equipment to perform their role safely.

“Our frontline health workers deserve to feel safe in the workplace, but right now our public hospitals are anything but safe,” said AWU Queensland Secretary Stacey Schinnerl.

“The rate of violence being reported by staff wouldn’t be acceptable in any other sector.

“Our entire workplace health and safety system is built on the premise that workers know best when it comes to their safety at work,” he said.

The survey showed very little difference in the self-reported rate of violence in metropolitan or regional areas.

The AWU put forward a Workplace Violence Action Plan policy briefing note which includes a 5-step action plan:
1. Introducing a standardised minimum level of protective equipment across Queensland Health for security and staff. “Due to Queensland Health’s siloed approach to workplace violence, security officers and staff in different facilities have very different levels of protective equipment. Workers want a standardised minimum level of protective equipment available for security officers across the entire system,” the briefing note said.

2: Queensland Health should ditch the failed MAYBO and MAPA training models and replace them with a fit-for-purpose training system. “Queensland Health currently holds contracts with two personal safety and de-escalation training providers – MAPA in Townsville HHS and MAYBO everywhere else,” the briefing note said.

“These models are not fit for purpose and are causing staff to be injured or unnecessarily investigated in the workplace. Both models are predicated on being able to attempt to de-escalate a situation before it becomes physical. De-escalation is always the primary goal when working with potentially violent people, but the system is unworkable when dealing with people who are past the point of de-escalation.”

3. Clearly defined ‘zero tolerance policies’ for workplace violence and assaults on Queensland Health staff to be treated as ‘serious assaults’ under the Criminal Code. The crime of ‘serious assault’ in the Criminal Code is the major deterrence mechanism when it comes to the assault of public sector workers in the line of duty, according to the briefing note.
Section 340 of the Criminal Code allows for assaults on public officers such as ambulance officers, police officers and child protection officers to be treated as ‘serious assaults’, attracting more severe penalties. However, the AWU said Queensland Health employees such as security officers, wardspeople, cleaners, and kitchen staff are not included in this definition.

4: Queensland Health should commit to more security personnel across the system. In addition to not having the proper equipment or training to deal with violence in the workplace, the briefing note said workers do not believe that there are enough security officers to keep their facilities safe.
“There is no benchmarking when it comes to how many security staff are rostered at any individual hospital,” it said. “By leaving security staffing entirely to hospital and health Services, resourcing these integral members of the health workforce often plays second or third fiddle to other budgetary requirements. With training systems that require a large number of staff to perform a single restraint, security officers are being set up to fail with no backup or support.”

5: Streamlined WorkCover claims and better post-assault support. The briefing note said Queensland Health staff are being injured as a result of workplace violence, which is resulting in a high amount of potential WorkCover claims. “Dealing with a compensation claim can be a very stressful process for frontline workers, and it can deter them getting the assistance they deserve,” it said. 
“Firefighters have a presumption of injury under the Act, meaning that when a disease is diagnosed, if the person was a firefighter for a certain period prescribed by the act, then the disease is deemed an injury for the purposes of a WorkCover claim. A similar provision exists for PTSD claims from first responders.”