8 June 2023

Sexual assaults in the workplace now a matter for the safety regulator in the ACT

| Lizzie Waymouth
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WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Jacqueline Agius

WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Jacqueline Agius said the changes will give the regulator “a clear understanding of the priority industries that we need to target with compliance activities”. Photo: WorkSafe ACT.

After the Territory’s handling of sexual assault cases was in the spotlight last month during the Board of Inquiry, the ACT Government has announced it will “broaden the remit” of WorkSafe ACT to investigate sexual assault incidents that occur in the workplace.

From Friday (9 June), workplaces must inform the WorkSafe ACT of any sexual assault incidents that take place at work. Reports to WorkSafe ACT do not replace or interfere with reporting sexual assault complaints to the police or any police investigations.

“Commencement of the mandatory reporting requirement is another step forward in ensuring our city is one where everyone can feel safe in their workplaces,” Minister for Industrial Relations and Workplace Safety Mick Gentleman said.

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A spokesperson from WorkSafe ACT said that employers will have a duty to notify the work health and safety regulator, regardless of whether the sexual assault is suspected or actual, as soon as they are aware an incident may have taken place. WorkSafe ACT will then respond to the notification with information about the steps the employer should take following the incident and support available for those involved.

If WorkSafe ACT finds that a notification has not been made, there are provisions within the work health and safety laws for infringements to be issued.

WorkSafe ACT will not follow up or make enquiries on sexual assault incidents that are notified and, in accordance with information privacy legislation, cannot collect any identifying information of any person involved in the incident.

The spokesperson clarified that there is no duty on those who have experienced, witnessed or been exposed to a workplace sexual assault to notify WorkSafe ACT and that the regulator will not collect any notification information from other individuals, only the employer.

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This change forms part of the ACT Government’s wider plans to implement clearer guidelines for businesses to understand their duties in managing psychosocial risks and hazards in the workplace. It is expected to culminate in the introduction of an ACT Code of Practice by the end of this year.

Speaking on Wednesday (6 June), Minister Gentleman said the ACT Government has been funding extra resources for SafeWork in each budget and the changes will “broaden the remit” of the regulator to ensure a safe workplace “includes the social interactions that occur there as well”.

“I think it’s important that everybody should be able to report on unsafe conditions, whether they’re trip hazards or whether they’re social interactions in the workplace,” he said.

He said the change will mean that sexual assault reporting can now be a part of WorkSafe ACT Commissioner Jacqueline Agius’s role.

“She can ensure that if complaints are made to the employer, then they must, of course, advise WorkSafe ACT for a possible investigation as well.”

Ms Agius explained: “Reporting these serious incidents to WorkSafe ACT provides us with a clear understanding of the priority industries that we need to target with compliance activities. I won’t accept that workplace sexual assault cannot be prevented.”

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Balance needed4:30 pm 09 Jun 23

Maybe one day the term “social interactions” will also cover the scourge of bullying and other forms of relational/emotional aggression, in addition to the scourge of sexual harassment, mostly perpetrated by males.

Emotional/relational bullies are just as likely to be female. The Jenkins Report found that 61 per cent of all bullies in Parliament House were female.

How about we start to acknowledge the thousands of female victims of female relational/emotional aggression and bullying? Not just in the workplace, but in schools, families, everywhere it occurs.

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