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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Alert24 - Safeguard Update

Violence often unrecognised

Violence often unrecognised
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New Zealand

Only half of the 86 organisations which responded to New Zealand's only regular survey on workplace violence formally recognise violence as a hazard, and only just over a quarter had a plan to manage the risk of violence at work - yet half the responding organisations reported at least one incident of violence against people or property during 2012.

The 2012 New Zealand Workplace Violence Survey is the third such survey conducted by the New Zealand Work Research Institute at AUT University and the Healthy Work Group at Massey University. The results are to be made publicly available later this month.

The respondents - from 86 organisations - were obtained from an appeal to the online Safeguard forum for people willing to participate by reporting their incidents of violence, perceptions of the sources of violence, and the means they were taking to counteract the risk of violence. Most respondents (60%) were in OHS roles, while 21% worked in HR.

The figures for 2012 were broadly similar to those obtained from the last survey in 2010, with the exception of the number of serious assaults. The proportion of responding organisations reporting at least one incident of physical assault resulting in lost time and/or hospitalisation dropped from 16% in 2010 to just 1% in 2012. However, the report authors caution against regarding this figure as an indication of an actual slump in violence incidents, given the small sample size, variation in industry sector composition, and the potentially different reporting behaviour and practices of participating organisations.

Nevertheless they were heartened to see 43% of responding organisations reported at least one attempted physical assault (with no injury reported), and 23% reported at least one assault resulting in minor injury. Similarly, 25% reported assault on property (without any damage arising), and 21% reported assault on property which resulted in damage. The authors interpreted these figures as showing encouraging signs of a positive incident reporting culture regarding minor and near-miss events.

The survey also asked for the perceived sources of risk of violence, and here the healthcare sector was the most emphatic: patients were clearly perceived as the greatest source of violence (average rating 4.4 on a 5-point scale), with customers/clients (presumably people accompanying or visiting patients) also of great concern, rating 3.5. Violence from strangers was perceived as highest in the transport/postal/warehousing sector, rating 2.43.

The survey also asked respondents about which risk factors they thought were in play in their organisations, using a scale developed in 2006 by Chappell and Martino in which three broad factors - interpersonal, organisational and environmental - are broken into subsets of risk. Respondents largely discounted environmental risk, with the exception of the healthcare sector which rated the physical location of the workplace as a factor.
More important were interpersonal risk factors, with communications (average rating score 2.62), alcohol and drug use (2.43), prejudice/harassment (2.24) and perceived injustice (2.50) rating highly.

Organisational risk factors were also deemed significant, with workloads (average rating score 2.53) and time pressure (2.60), demonstrating - conclude the authors - that these stress factors increase the perception of the risk of workplace violence.

The health sector also rated working remotely or in isolation as a significant risk, and both health and construction sectors rated inadequate staff training in how to manage workplace violence as important, suggesting, say the authors, a potential area for further intervention.

Apart from staff training, the authors were pleased to note a wide variety of measures respondents are using to manage the risk of violence, and that many were organisational: anti-harassment policies, staff scheduling, improved supervision, better communications, drug and alcohol policies, and risk registers. Technical measures were also reported - personal alarms, panic buttons, surveillance, security barriers - but less frequently than in the 2010 survey.

The report advises that single interventions which focus on just one aspect of violence risk - training or technology, for example - are not enough.

"Where the nature of the work undertaken ... precludes or restricts the ability of managers to apply certain forms of control (eg environment or behaviour) it is crucial that this is compensated [for] through improved work organisation measures and a focus on a positive health and safety culture with regard to violence prevention within the organisation."

Organisations Mentioned:
Massey University; Safeguard; AUT University; New Zealand Work Research Institute; Healthy Work Group
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From Alert24 - Safeguard Update

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