Workplace Bullying’s Negative Impact on Safety

This is second section of Bernie Althofer’s article on Workplace Bullying being a National Disgrace. Bernie is the Managing Director of EGLI Assessments who offer workshops and assessment processes for identifying and managing workplace bullying. To read the previous section of this article, please visit: Is Workplace Bullying a National Disgrace?

Health and Safety

Impact of Workplace BullyingThere is little doubt that bullying seems to be heading for the position of number one contender for the greatest negative health and safety cost in terms of physical and/or psychological hazards. 

Whilst all States and Territories have been upping the ante in relation to safer workplaces, the inclusion of bullying with the same level of focus might have national benefits.

It is interesting to note that the current moves to harmonise health and safety laws across Australia.  This could have interesting ramifications and implications for all States and Territories as they develop common meanings and understanding of health and safety related issues such as workplace bullying.

Changes to compliance and penalty regimes could mean that workplace bullying offences are pursued through higher courts such as District Courts, and be heard before a jury. Depending on the nature and circumstances of the workplace bullying incident, there is a possibility that a person convicted under a Category One level could face imprisonment of up to five years. No doubt this will create an environment where organisations will need to think seriously about how they detect, respond and resolve bullying allegations.

If executive officers believe they are at risk of imprisonment, they might be interested in being proactive in preventing, detecting and resolving workplace bullying.

Some organisations are adopting a zero harm approach in relation to health and safety, but some may not have linked the negative impact of workplace bullying to physical injuries or harm. 

What happens when a person is so traumatised by being bullied and they are involved in a physical incident that results in death or serious injuries? Will the investigation look at all the causal and contributing factors to determine state of mind and fitness for duty?

Training to assist managers and supervisors in the identification of ‘at risk’ personnel may be some of the best proactive measures organisations could and should take to meet duty of care obligations in providing safe work environments.

As training budgets are cut in all areas, but particularly in the area of health and safety, it may become harder for executive officers to demonstrate their commitment to health and safety and how they are meeting the legislative obligations in relation to safe working environments.


As indicated previously, the lack of a national uniform approach has negative impacts across business and society. Different Courts, Commissions and Tribunals are used in the resolution processes. Given that bullying is a complex issue requiring complex solutions, Courts, Commissions or Tribunals are often required to hear ‘experts’ so that a determination can be made. 

It is important for those involved in a workplace bullying incident to understand that the legal processes may be a contributing factor in achieving a resolution. For some the resolution may not be what they want and they have to reach a compromise that they are not entirely happy with.

Bullying incidents can involve breaches of contracts, non compliance with policy and procedures, or people simply being nasty to others.  It is important that individuals at all levels understand the changing trends and issues associated with workplace bullying Court, Commission or Tribunal decisions.

Silo approaches in organisations and across organisations engaged in the same industry may result in information not being shared. Consequently, when a Court, Commission or Tribunal decision is made, the results might not be shared. If the information was shared, it might result in a further incident being prevented.

Reasonable Management

What is reasonable to one is unreasonable to another. Some management decisions can be construed as unreasonable when in reality; decisions are made in good faith. 

The law in relation to reasonable and reasonableness is subject to interpretation and hence confusion on the part of managers and other employees. 

Whilst Codes of Practice attempt to give guidance, other decision makers within the injury claims process may have different understandings or interpretations.

It can also become an issue when a Government Department issues a Code of Practice with an outline of what is believed to be the core components of reasonable management, only to find that another area such as one that might make decisions about workplace injury claims has a different interpretation.

About the Author

Safety Concepts is an online resource providing up to date insights and covering issues in the field of Workplace Safety.

Comments (5)

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  1. neil says:

    the biggest problem with bullying is that it can occur in many forms,from implied threats,physical and insinuated to outright .threats of job restrictions,less hours,termination all occur regularly and often hard to prove without witnesses.people in charge are often the worst offenders as power seems to go to their heads.

  2. Anon. says:

    I have been on the recieving end of workplace bullying. I spoke up after 16months and was and still am disgusted on how it was handled.
    I think that employers need to be made aware of their duty of care and the consequences of “brushing the issue under the carpet”.
    After going through what I went through its no wonder why people dont speak up about what is going on.

  3. Alison says:

    As a victim of bullying this was an interesting article. In my case, I felt like management did not do the right thing and implied that I would suffer the same consequences as the bully (as I had sworn at the bully) and I did not believe that my welfare was taken into account. This ‘Bully’ has a track record with other employees also and I wonder what it will take for the company to do something.

    I am in the process of looking for another job as I no longer believe in the company I work for.

  4. Vince Beitia says:

    I have found that the most bullied people are those employees who are part of a union .
    Have a look at your own workplace situation, you will find that the people being bullied are indeed in a union .
    Management tend to lean faviouritism towards non union employees thus forming a trend to isolate union members from advancement in the workplace .This is particulary common where E.B.A agreements are formed around a target of total non absenteeism and aimed to reward people who have joined the workplace from jobs that were very low paid .
    They make these people feel privalidged to have a job and they will do anything for the company including voting against any proposal put forward by a union member
    Subsequently union members are bullied right out of the workplace by both non union members and management alike .

  5. Pat says:

    As a victim of bullying this was an interesting article. In my case, I felt like management did not do the right thing as the HR department said it comes down to what the supervisers does. Why have a HR department. I did not believe that my welfare was taken into account. I said nothing to this bully to upset or annoy. This ‘Bully’ has a track record with other departments within this company. I wonder what it will take for the company to do something.This person should have been removed or sacked. Going through the right cannals as we have Contact officers at our company in fact I am one, was a waste of time. This has cost me as some of the crew will not talk to me. Been with this Company for 20years this Bully been in this workpalce for 4 years. Its not good enough.

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