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Occupational violence and aggression (OVA)

What is OVA

Occupational violence and aggression (OVA) includes actions and behaviours that can create a risk to the health and safety of workers. These are often described as ‘acting out’, ‘challenging behaviour’ or ‘behaviours of concern’.

Examples of OVA include:

  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
  • throwing objects, damaging property
  • verbal abuse and threats
  • using or threatening to use a weapon
  • biting, spitting, scratching, hitting, kicking
  • sexual harassment or assault.

OVA covers:

  • external violence: associated with overt violence such as armed hold-ups and robberies, for example at shops or banks
  • client-initiated violence: inflicted on workers by their customers or clients. For example, a patient may abuse a nurse, or a passenger may assault airline crew.

Bullying amongst co-workers is not dealt with here. Please see Bullying.

It’s important to realise that the severity of violence is not the same as the incidence. Some jobs have a high incidence of lower-level violence (for example, verbal abuse of workers in fast-food outlets) although such incidents rarely have severe outcomes. Conversely, armed hold-ups of banking workers may be less common, but the potential for a severe outcome involving death or serious injury (mental and physical) is much higher.

Industries and workers at risk

OVA can happen in any industry. It happens more often in health, aged care, disability services, youth services, education, law enforcement, retail, hospitality, security, cash-handling, finance and banking.

Workers most likely to be exposed to OVA are:

  • first responders in an emergency: police, paramedics, emergency hospital staff, security officers and fire fighters
  • workers in correctional services
  • workers in the health and aged care industries.

Risk factors

  • Working alone, in isolation or in a remote area with the inability to call for assistance.
  • Working offsite or in the community.
  • Working in unpredictable environments.
  • Communicating face-to-face with customers.
  • Handling cash, drugs and/or valuables.
  • Providing care to people who are in distress, afraid, ill or incarcerated.
  • Service methods that cause frustration, resentment or misunderstanding.
  • Providing care or services for people who have unreasonable expectations of what the organisation and/or worker can provide to them.
  • Enforcement activities.

Controlling the risks

  • Design the workplace to ensure safe spaces for workers. These might include duress alarm systems, screens or other security systems to separate workers from the public, and sufficient lighting.
  • Address work practices so they don’t contribute to OVA. For example, resolve long waiting times, poor customer service, and lack of staff may make people react angrily.
  • Have documented work policies and procedures that clarify behaviour expectations. You may adopt a zero tolerance to OVA. Make sure workers and clients are aware of your policies and procedures, and how you will repsond to aggressive or violent behaviour.
  • Train your workers based on their needs and the client group involved. Train workers so they are aware of what to do if faced with a potentially violent situation; and so they can predict and know how to prevent and manage aggression or situations where someone could be assaulted.
  • Make sure you have effective and constructive two-way communication, incident reporting and investigation involving workers, health and safety representatives and management to address hazards as they arise.

Effective support of a worker after any incident of OVA is critical.

Review your systems and procedures regularly and after any incident.

Resources

WorkSafe Tasmania resources

Mental health

Bullying

Other resources

Occupational violence and aggression: WorkSafe Victoria (external link)

It’s never okay: Violence and aggression in healthcare: WorkSafe Victoria (external link)

Healthcare and hospitals: WorkSafe Victoria (external link)

Updated: 29th October 2019