18.1 This chapter examines ways in which the Commonwealth occupational health and safety (OHS) system, in the context of moves to harmonise OHS law across Australia, protects employees experiencing family violence and, where it does not do so, how that might be addressed. In particular, the chapter examines: legislative duties of care; the nature and role of regulatory guidance; the importance of further consideration of family violence as a possible work health and safety issue, including research and data collection; as well as the importance of increased awareness, education and training around family violence and its impact as a possible work health and safety issue.

18.2 This chapter contains two main approaches to the issue of family violence as a possible work health and safety issue. First, under the Commonwealth OHS system, legislative and regulatory duties appear to be sufficiently broad to capture some circumstances in which family violence may affect an employee in the workplace. In these instances, in terms of employer obligations, the risk posed by family violence is analogous to the risk posed by other forms of workplace violence. As a result, lack of knowledge, rather than legislative inadequacies, represent the greatest challenge in such instances and so improving awareness and understanding of family violence as a possible OHS issue is the focus of reforms. The ALRC makes a range of recommendations focused on: increasing awareness of family violence and its impact as a possible work health and safety issue; the incorporation of systems and policies into normal business practice to develop the capacity of employers and employees to effectively manage family violence as an OHS risk; and data collection mechanisms to establish an evidence base upon which to plan future policy directions in this area.

18.3 Secondly, in instances in which it is more difficult to establish that family violence would engage an employer’s duty of care or be covered by existing OHS law, for example where it is more analogous to psychosocial hazards, the ALRC recommends that additional research be undertaken in this area. In particular, the ALRC recommends that Safe Work Australia should identify family violence as a research priority, examine the effect of the harmonised OHS regime on duties and obligations owed in relation to family violence as a possible OHS risk, and consider ways to extent and improve data coverage, collection and analysis in this area.

18.4 The central premise underlying this chapter is that, where family violence is a possible OHS issue, employees should be given the highest level of protection reasonably practicable, and employers should introduce measures to respond to family violence and create and sustain safe work environments in such circumstances.