Managing risk

First of a kind: national sexual harassment guidance

For the first time, Safe Work Australia has created WHS guidance on preventing workplace sexual harassment. 

22 September 2021

A national inquiry prompted the creation of the guide to address sexual harassment as a major work health and safety issue.

The Preventing workplace sexual harassment guide - National Guidance material aims to prevent sexual harassment between workers, supervisors, and managers at all levels and manage the risk of third-party sexual harassment from customers, clients, and others.

Accompanying the national guidance are other guides: 

Preventing workplace violence and aggression guide

Preventing workplace sexual harassment – guidance for small business

Workplace sexual harassment – advice for workers

Guide: Work-related psychological health and safety: A systematic approach to meeting your duties

What is sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment is a workplace hazard that is known to cause psychological and physical harm. Managing the risks of sexual harassment should be part of your approach to work health and safety.

It is “any unwelcome sexual advance, unwelcome request for sexual favours or other unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, in circumstances where a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would anticipate the possibility that the person harassed would be offended, humiliated or intimidated.”

Employers may also have obligations under other laws such as anti-discrimination and workers’ compensation laws. Some acts may even be offences under criminal law.

Managing risks

Employers must do whatever they can to eliminate or minimise the health and safety risks of sexual harassment in the workplace so far as is reasonably practicable. 

It involves:

  • identifying the hazards 
  • assessing the associated risks 
  • implementing control measures to eliminate or minimise risks, and 
  • regularly reviewing control measures to ensure they remain effective.

This is known as risk management and must be done in consultation with workers. “Engaging workers and others in developing controls will likely result in measures that are more effective and more widely used.”

Health and safety management systems, policies and procedures should be part of the overall sexual harassment prevention strategy. The new guide on preventing workplace violence and aggression consider work systems to prevent harassment.

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