Open Access Open Badges Research article

Workplace violence in a large correctional health service in New South Wales, Australia: a retrospective review of incident management records

Aaron W Cashmore12*, Devon Indig23, Stephen E Hampton234, Desley G Hegney57 and Bin B Jalaludin36

Author Affiliations

1 New South Wales Public Health Officer Training Program, New South Wales Ministry of Health, North Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

2 Justice Health, Matraville, New South Wales, Australia

3 School of Public Health and Community Medicine, University of New South Wales, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia

4 School of Medicine, University of Western Sydney, Campbelltown, New South Wales, Australia

5 Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, Curtin University, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

6 Centre for Research, Evidence Management and Surveillance, South Western Sydney Local Health District, Liverpool, New South Wales, Australia

7 Centre for Nursing Research, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2012, 12:245  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-12-245

Published: 9 August 2012



Little is known about workplace violence among correctional health professionals. This study aimed to describe the patterns, severity and outcomes of incidents of workplace violence among employees of a large correctional health service, and to explore the help-seeking behaviours of staff following an incident.


The study setting was Justice Health, a statutory health corporation established to provide health care to people who come into contact with the criminal justice system in New South Wales, Australia. We reviewed incident management records describing workplace violence among Justice Health staff. The three-year study period was 1/7/2007-30/6/2010.


During the period under review, 208 incidents of workplace violence were recorded. Verbal abuse (71%) was more common than physical abuse (29%). The most (44%) incidents of workplace violence (including both verbal and physical abuse) occurred in adult male prisons, although the most (50%) incidents of physical abuse occurred in a forensic hospital. Most (90%) of the victims were nurses and two-thirds were females. Younger employees and males were most likely to be a victim of physical abuse. Preparing or dispensing medication and attempting to calm and/or restrain an aggressive patient were identified as ‘high risk’ work duties for verbal abuse and physical abuse, respectively. Most (93%) of the incidents of workplace violence were initiated by a prisoner/patient. Almost all of the incidents received either a medium (46%) or low (52%) Severity Assessment Code. Few victims of workplace violence incurred a serious physical injury – there were no workplace deaths during the study period. However, mental stress was common, especially among the victims of verbal abuse (85%). Few (6%) victims of verbal abuse sought help from a health professional.


Among employees of a large correctional health service, verbal abuse in the workplace was substantially more common than physical abuse. The most incidents of workplace violence occurred in adult male prisons. Review of the types of adverse health outcomes experienced by the victims of workplace violence and the assessments of severity assigned to violent incidents suggests that, compared with health care settings in the community, correctional settings are fairly safe places in which to practice.

Workplace violence; Correctional health professionals; Incident management