Safe Work Australia has released the nation’s first comprehensive WHS guidance that focuses on preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, along with new guidance to help businesses prevent violence and aggression.
The guidance helps businesses step through when, how and why sexual harassment might happen in the workplace and outlines practical measures to help prevent it and how to respond if it does happen.
Last year, an Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) report found that Australia’s model WHS laws already imposed a duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace as part of their broader safety obligations.
However, it also noted that the lack of an “express WHS Regulation, Code of Practice or guideline” meant that workplace sexual harassment was not being addressed by regulators or employers in a “consistent, robust or systemic way.”
Ultimately, the HRC concluded that sexual harassment in Australian workplaces is widespread and pervasive. In fact, approximately one in three people have experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years.
“There is an urgent need to raise awareness that sexual harassment is a work health and safety issue,” the report said.
The new guidance states that sexual harassment is covered by WHS laws as it is a “workplace hazard that creates physical and psychological risks to health and safety.”
“Sexual harassment is now recognised as a systemic risk, with industry, environmental and individual risk factors present in every workplace.”
“To identify the potential for sexual harassment, you need to gather information about the hazards in your workplace and assess the associated risk.”
The guidance highlights several workplace factors that can increase the risks of sexual harassment including low worker diversity, power imbalances, a hierarchical structure, poor leadership, alcohol, and worker isolation.
“When identifying hazards and gathering information to ensure you have appropriate controls in place, it is important that you consult with all of your workers,” the guidance says.
Managers are encouraged to regularly walk-through and assess the physical work environment, and to talk to their workers about workplace concerns and sexual harassment as a WHS issue.
It is also stressed that managers should not rely only on formal reports as a lack of reports does not mean that sexual harassment is not happening.
The 2018 HRC survey showed that only 17% of workers who experienced sexual harassment reported the conduct.
Managers are encouraged to consider the fact that people may not be reporting sexual harassment because they do not know how, do not feel it is serious enough, or do not feel safe and supported to do so.
Additional harassment guidance:
- Information on managing the risks of workplace violence and aggression, such as violence from clients, customers other workers and gendered violence can be found in the Guide: Preventing workplace violence and aggression.
- Information on preventing and responding to workplace bullying can be found in the Guide: Preventing and responding to workplace bullying.
- Information on managing risks to psychological health and safety can be found in the Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties.
- Information on family and domestic violence can be found in the Information sheet: Family and domestic violence at the workplace.
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