Violence at work: reducing assault and abuse experienced by frontline staff in public service roles

Image of people having conflict while working by Yan Krukau from (free to use under pexels licence)

Event details

PhD Seminar

Date & time

Tuesday 21 March 2023


Seminar Room 1.04 Coombs Extension Building #8 Fellows Road ANU


Steve Munns

Australian Public Service (APS) staff employed in frontline roles are often subjected to verbal and physical aggression. Given the risks of harm, workplace aggression is a significant challenge for organisations. There has been little research on APS organisations such as social (e.g., Centrelink) or veterans’ services.

A mixed method approach inclusive of site observations, online survey and one to one interviews was applied to understand the nature, prevalence and severity of Service User Violence and Aggression (SUVA) perpetrated against staff in two APS organisations: the Services Australia Agency and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), including the Open Arms Veterans’ Counselling Service.

Results from the descriptive analysis indicate that official organisational SUVA data underestimates the amount of SUVA faced by staff (staff experiencing SUVA in the previous 24 month period 51% of Services Australia and 69% of DVA respondents subjected to SUVA); significant number of staff are concerned that they may face future SUVA (48.8% of Services Australia and 58.2% of DVA).

Reflexive Thematic Analysis noted significant triggers for SUVA with main themes: ‘staff behaviour’ and ‘internal policies and processes’ as the two most notable. Due to the complexity of SUVA, APS organisations would benefit from a proactive multi-focused approach on risk mitigation policy that crosses three domains: service user, frontline staff member and the organisation.

This seminar is Steve’s final presentation of his doctoral candidature.

About the speaker

Prior to commencing his PhD research, Steve Munns was a Director in the Department of Human Services (now Services Australia) where he established and led the Departments Forensic Psychology Team.

Steve was also responsible for multidisciplinary and geographically dispersed teams of health and allied health professionals who assess and support customers across Northern Australia and Queensland. As a lead in remote and Indigenous servicing Steve provided strategic advice on program and policy design as well as service implementation.

Steve is a proud Bundjulung/Gumbaynggirr man with his mob being from Grafton in the Northern Rivers of NSW. He was awarded the inaugural Pat Turner PhD scholarship for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants through the Sir Roland Wilson Foundation.

COVID protocols

The ANU strongly encourages you to keep a mask with you at all times (for use when COVID-19 safe behaviours are not practicable) and to be respectful of colleagues, students and visitors who may wish to continue to wear one. Please continue to practice good hygiene. If you are unwell, please stay home. The ANU’s COVID Safety advice can be accessed here.

This seminar presentation will be in-person only.

Image credit: Image of people having conflict while working by Yan Krukau from (free to use under pexels licence)

Updated:  10 August 2017/Responsible Officer:  Director, RegNet/Page Contact:  Director, RegNet