Using the WHS Risk Management Process to Stop Bullying

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Using the WHS Risk Management Process to Stop Bullying

Just like, you don’t have to wait for someone to be injured by falling off a roof twice before you give them a harness, you should stop all unreasonable behaviour that poses a risk to health and safety through bullying, before it happens. Workplace bullying injury involves repeated unreasonable behaviour persistently over a period of time. While the law protects workers by stopping bullying before it is persistent over time. Stopping it before it happens includes stopping it before the unreasonable behaviour is repeated and before it reaches the point where it can go to court. You have the same obligations under WHS law as physical injuries, to prevent psychological injury at work. It is up to organisations to proactively prevent injury, because Work, Health and Safety (WHS) law will only affect an organisation when bullying injury happens. This is when your organisation can be penalised for not preventing the injury in the first place, resulting in compensation costs, fines and even prison sentences.

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The normal WHS risk management process is what you need to use to prevent workplace bullying injury from happening. There is extensive academic research to identify the hazards of workplace bullying, including those hazards listed in the Safe Work Australia ‘Guide to Preventing Workplace Bullying’. The advantage of identifying all the additional research on these hazards is that there will be less chance of missing hazards that may be identified by victims and claimed against an organisation in court later. The academic research also identifies the extensive risks that workplace bullying poses not only to workers but also to the organisation, including task failure and lost reputation. Some of the extreme personal risks include suicide by affected workers, which are increasingly covered by criminal laws to make workplace bullies and their supervisors criminally liable for bullying related deaths.

For bullying related injury, the control of the risk involves preventing the unreasonable behaviour before it can be repeated persistently over time. The full extent of the controls you put in place depend on your management commitment, however the minimum should be the introduction of written guidelines, policies and procedures coordinated with your existing bullying management policy, performance management policy, conflict resolution, grievance handling procedures and employment contracts. Under WHS risk management processes these anti-bullying guidelines, policies and procedures must be drafted in consultation with your employees to tailor the anti-bullying policy to your organisations particular circumstances and existing policies.

The policy should outline what the objectives of the policy are as a guide to determine what is acceptable behaviour for those grey areas where behaviour is not specifically identified as unreasonable. With this general guide in place you can provide a list of reasonable behaviours in a code of conduct that identifies obvious positive behaviours that are encouraged by the organisation. In particular the policy should identify the unreasonable behaviour that needs to be prevented and need not be repeated before it is stopped. There should be a procedure for reporting, investigation and dealing with conflict which should direct you to and not contradict any existing grievance handling or performance management policy. Where the consequences of dealing with complaints includes termination of employment or reassignment of duties, the organisations employment contracts need to support these processes.

Ideally this new policy should be disseminated and supported through management commitment to create an ethical culture of positive communication. This commitment should also include training, coaching and monitoring to ensure compliance and provide the skills to recognise the relevant conflict management and emotional awareness issues to respond appropriately. The advantages of proper management commitment include a successful and creative workforce, reducing recruitment costs with a marketable reputation as a caring brand and preferred employer.

Kevin Gilmore-Burrell LLB MBA

© Empathyse ™ Anti-bullying Consulting 2018