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Work Health and Safety Blog

There's so much happening in the world of health & safety. Changes in legislation and requirements, changes in best practice, changes in ... you name it. Here's my take on making it simple. Simply Genius WHS - stop guessing... manage with confidence.

Bullying and harassment in your workplace - a starting point for change

Maralyn Kastel - Friday, March 05, 2010

Warning came too late for bullied Brodie. Two of them were warned, after they put Ratsak in her handbag, to stop their relentless bullying or they'd have ''blood on their hands''. But the warning came too late to save Brodie Panlock.

At just 19, she took her life after months of degrading treatment at the hands of work colleagues at Hawthorn's trendy Cafe Vamp between 2005 & 2006.

Marc Da Cruz, 43, Nicholas Smallwood, 26, Rhys MacAlpine, 28, and Gabriel Toomey, 23, in the Melbourne Magistrates Court and Da Cruz’s company pleaded guilty to workplace charges.

Garry Livermore, for WorkSafe Victoria, said Brodie, friendly and bubbly but emotionally vulnerable, was subjected to a ''range of repeated direct and indirect physical and non-physical bullying''

Mr Livermore said Da Cruz, sole owner of the business, was aware of some aspects of the bullying, was present on occasions and allowed it to continue and sometimes condoned it.

After her first suicide attempt, in which she tried to poison herself, Smallwood taunted her that ''you can't even kill yourself properly''. He and MacAlpine mocked her when she found the Ratsak in her bag, and then poured fish sauce over her.

In September 2006, after an employee had told Smallwood and MacAlpine that if they didn't stop, ''you're going to have blood on your hands'', Brodie jumped from a car park and died three days later.

Nicholas Smallwood, 26, Rhys MacAlpine, 28, and Gabriel Toomey, 23, all pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to failing to take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons.

Magistrate Peter Lauritsen described their actions as "the most serious case of bullying", adding that he would have doubled the penalties if they had not pled guilty. Smallwood was fined $45,000, MacAlpine $30,000 and Toomey $10,000. Da Cruz, 43, was fined $30,000 and his company $220,000. 
Source: www.theage.com.au and www.news.com.au

Managers and supervisors responsibilities
Managers are responsible for ensuring that all workers (including subcontractors, volunteers etc) understand that bullying is not tolerated in the workplace.  They are responsible for taking early corrective action to deal with behaviour which may be offensive or intimidating and constitute bullying. 

Provide information and education about bullying and harassment to all your workers. Make sure workers know the type of behaviour that is not acceptable and how you will deal with that type of behaviour if it occurs.

If a manager or supervisor feels that a reported incident might constitute bullying and they feel that the nature of the complaint is outside their expertise, then refer the matter to senior management.

The prevention of all inappropriate behaviours including bullying requires managers and supervisors to:

  • be aware of, identify and help in preventing bullying in the workplace
  • not engage in inappropriate behaviour
  • encourage all workers to behave in accordance with the principles of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination
  •  provide leadership and a role model of appropriate and professional behaviour in the workplace and
  • respond promptly, sensitively and confidentially to all situations where inappropriate behaviour is identified or alleged to have occurred

Workers' responsibilities
The prevention of bullying requires workers to act responsibly and professionally and:

  • be aware of and identify bullying behaviour and assist in preventing instances of bullying behaviour.
  • behave in accordance with the principles of equal opportunity and anti-discrimination
  • if bullying behaviour is witnessed or experienced and the worker feels able, speak with the alleged bully to object to their bullying behaviour
  • offer to act as a witness if the person being bullied decides to report the incident
  • keep a record or diary of incidents noting what happened, when and the names of witnesses.

In the workplace

  • support fellow workers - don't accept inappropriate behaviour
  • set good standards in dealing with others
  • speak out against inappropriate behaviour (eg report it, don’t ignore it)

Identify risk factors
These risk factors require looking closely at the organisation to identify how they can increase the likelihood of bullying occurring and putting in place measures that reduce that risk. The risk factors can be grouped into these categories:

  • Organisational change (eg restructuring & major technological change)
  • Workplace characteristics (eg new employees, casuals & apprentices)
  • Workplace relationships (eg leadership styles, autocratic or lack of supervision etc)
  • Workplace communication (eg poor communication & information flow)
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