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Violence, harassment and aggression at work

IOSH policy position

Violence, harassment and aggression are becoming increasingly common in workplaces, causing significant occupational safety and health (OSH) concerns. Here is the IOSH view on it.

What’s the issue?

Many countries fail to prevent and respond to workplace violence and harassment, despite more than one in five (743 million) people having been affected by it worldwide, according to the International Labour Organization. Women, notably young and migrant women, disproportionately fall victim to sexual violence and harassment, with the cost estimated at 2 per cent of global GDP, equivalent to $1.5 trillion.

Nearly a third of countries lack any laws prohibiting sexual harassment, with legal gaps fuelling harmful social norms against marginalised workers.

Economic vulnerability, poverty, and low pay have been strongly linked to the risk of violence, with extreme forms of exploitation highlighted among workers trafficked for forced labour and sexual exploitation. These workers, often the most unprotected, are commonly subjected to extreme forms of coercion, living in constant fear of violence and are less able to leave.

How do we see it?

Violence and harassment at work can have an adverse long-term impact on mental and physical health. We believe OSH is key to tackling this scourge on society, through its prevention strategies and the identification and addressing of root causes.

A significant barrier to prevention is lack of accountability for the perpetrators. Most victims do not report their experiences to employers, so there is a need for trusted and transparent reporting mechanisms to enable workers and witnesses to make complaints and to do so confidentially.

Governments are drivers of international law and play a vital role in implementing international legal and regulatory obligations on human rights and women’s rights. They must therefore take robust action to combat violence and harassment against workers.

  • Ratify and implement ILO Convention No. 190 ‘Violence and Harassment Convention’ and its accompanying Recommendation.
  • Develop a global initiative that focuses on the prevention of disability and gender-based violence in the workplace, promoting responsive policies and support systems for victims.
  • Develop measures to combat online harassment, including cyberbullying, especially in the modern world that is often driven by remote working.
  • Consult with employees to implement clear, concise zero-tolerance policies.
  • Provide mandatory training and information, with updates and refreshers.
  • Establish a committee comprising employers’ and workers’ representatives to manage complaints procedures and grievance mechanisms to enable confidential and anonymous reporting systems for victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers.
  • Ensure violence and harassment is included in OSH management systems.
  • Consult employees when assessing risks and developing policies.
  • Communicate policies clearly to all actors, including through supply chains.
  • Create robust mechanisms which encourages incident reporting, identifies root causes, and takes action to address them.

This policy position represents IOSH's view as of April 2024 based on the best evidence available to us. We will review it periodically and reserve the right to change and update it drawing on new information.