Women at risk in rural workplaces

VIOLENCE in the workplace against women is on the rise in regional areas.

That is the message from a National Round- table held at Parliament House in Canberra yesterday to address growing violence in rural and remote workplaces.

Rural doctors, nurses, teachers, police and other professionals met to consider current issues affecting safe practice for female professionals and to develop a national plan of action to make workplaces safer.

Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health director of education and local GP, Dr Sue Page, attended.

“The evidence suggests workplace bullying in rural and remote areas is more prevalent than in urban ones,” she said.

“Workplace bullying can impact on the number of professionals who choose to work in regional areas. It also affects retention rates so communities can struggle to keep their doctors, nurses and teachers.

“An example is the police. Ninety per cent of female police officers in regional areas have experienced physical or verbal violence in the workplace during the last 12 months.”

Dr Page said doctors were not immune either, with 73pc experiencing verbal abuse and 20pc experiencing physical abuse in the workplace in their career.

“We have realised that today there are various levels of strategies that need to be introduced to address the issue,” she said.

“The first strategy is 'education'.

“Education of staff is essential at two levels. The first is that staff needs to learn a 'de-escalation technique', such as non-aggressive body language and not making prolonged eye contact.

“Secondly, people need to be educated about expectations, there needs to be clear and appropriate expectations of staff.”

Dr Page said the second strategy required the 'engineering' or design of workplaces to make them safer.

The third strategy was 'engagement' in the community, such as joining local sporting teams or volunteering at the school canteen.

The fourth strategy was 'enforcement', such as having a code of conduct to enforce a zero tolerance policy to bullying.

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