Research and data collection

18.46 The National OHS Strategy refers to the need to improve data collection and analysis of OHS issues.[57] Despite this, there is a lack of publicly available data about the incidence of family violence-related OHS hazards or incidents.

18.47 As outlined above, there are some instances in which family violence may pose a clear OHS issue or risk—in such instances, the ALRC considers the most appropriate approach is to conduct research into duties arising in such instances and to ensure reliable data is collected in order to provide a basis for any future policy development. There are also instances in which it is unclear whether a primary duty exists—in such instances the need for research and data collection differs and as a result, the ALRC considers it is appropriate to identify family violence as an OHS risk as a research priority.

18.48 Stakeholders like the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC) have emphasised the importance of research and data collection in this area to ‘assist in enhancing recognition of family violence as a workplace issue’.[58] Throughout the course of this Inquiry, stakeholders have suggested that data may usefully be collected through the notifiable incident system or through changes with respect to data surrounding work-related fatalities and the use of workers’ compensation data.[59] The ALRC recommends that Safe Work Australia consider ways to extend and improve data coverage, collection and analysis in relation to family violence as a work health and safety issue.

18.49 In its submission, Safe Work Australia stated that its ‘limited resources need to be focused on collecting data and carrying out research to prevent work-related injury and illness as a priority’.[60] The ALRC and numerous stakeholders are of the view that research and data collection around family violence-related illness and injury in the workplace is a priority, as such research and data ‘assists decision makers when developing or evaluating policies in relation to work health and safety and workers’ compensation by building on knowledge of existing issues, identifying trends and emerging issues’.[61]

18.50 The ALRC therefore considers that Safe Work Australia is the most appropriate body to conduct research and collect information about family violence as a possible OHS issue. The functions of Safe Work Australia include to ‘collect, analyse and publish data or other information’ and to ‘conduct and publish research’ relating to OHS ‘in order to inform the development or evaluation of policies’.[62] As a result, it already has sections undertaking research and evaluation, and data analysis.[63] However, the ALRC suggests that State and Territory OHS regulators, Comcare and similar bodies could also play a role in any such research or data collection. The ADFVC suggested that such research could be ‘conducted in consultation or partnership with existing researchers who have experience in creating research methodology for data collection’ in this area.[64]

18.51 The ALRC recommends that in the course of conducting research and collecting data in this area, Safe Work Australia should focus on examining the effect of the harmonised legislative and regulatory OHS scheme on duties and obligations owed in relation to family violence as a work health and safety issue—in particular the duty of:

  • PCBUs in circumstances where family violence enters the workplace; and
  • workers to disclose family violence; whether non-disclosure constitutes a breach of their primary duty and the effect it may have on the duty owed by a PCBU.

18.52 One of the focuses for Safe Work Australia in 2011–12 will be the development of a comprehensive Research and Data strategy,[65] another is finalising development of the National Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012–2022 to replace the current National Strategy.[66] In addition, the ALRC understands that Safe Work Australia’s work is ‘guided by its strategic and operational plans’.[67] The ALRC considers the development of these strategies, or any review of other strategies or plans, provide the most appropriate opportunity to consider this issue.

Recommendation 18–1 Safe Work Australia should, in developing or reviewing its Research and Data Strategy or other relevant strategies:

  1. identify family violence and work health and safety as a research priority;
  2. examine the effect of the harmonised legislative and regulatory OHS scheme on duties and obligations owed in relation to family violence as a possible work health and safety issue; and
  3. consider ways to extend and improve data coverage, collection and analysis in relation to family violence and its impact as a work health and safety issue.

[57] Safe Work Australia, National OHS Strategy 2002–2012.

[58] ADFVC, Submission CFV 26.

[59] For example, some stakeholders expressed support for amending the reporting mechanisms and recording of workplace fatality statistics to outline more clearly the cause of the injury or death, in particular where it involves family violence: Ibid. In some cases it may be difficult to determine where family violence has played a role in an accident caused by an employee’s lack of concentration or fatigue, which may stem from family violence. In instances where there are verbal or physical threats or abuse in the workplace, it may be less difficult.

[60] Safe Work Australia, Submission CFV 115.

[61] Ibid <> at 18 November 2011.

[62]Safe Work Australia Act 2008 (Cth) s 6.

[63] The main role and function Safe Work Australia’s Research and Evaluation Section is to conduct and make publicly available research in relation to work health and safety and workers’ compensation.

[64] ADFVC, Submission CFV 124.

[65] Safe Work Australia, Agency Budget Statement 2011–2012 (2011), Overview and Resources, 372.

[66] Safe Work Australia, Submission CFV 115.

[67] Ibid.