Country Fire Service | Bullying and Harassment at Work

04 September 2019

Bullying is not just something that happens in the school yard. It happens all too often in workplaces, making the daily lives of many workers intolerable.

Bullying can be a threat to physical well being or be psychologically damaging and it can make life at work a misery. It can result in physical injury or health problems due to stress. Not only is it a health and safety issue, it also affects the productivity and effectiveness of organisations. It is a serious problem.


In September 2018, workers across the SA Public Service undertook the Your Voice: I WORK FOR SA Survey.

Of the CFS workers who completed the Your Voice Survey:

  •  61% of respondents report the level of stress in their job has a negative effect on their work
  •  60% of respondents report witnessing bullying and harassment in the last 12 months
  •  45% of respondents have personally experienced bullying and harassment in the last 12 months

Of these respondents

  •  86% did not submit a formal complaint after being subjected to bullying and harassment
  •  57% took sick leave as a result of bullying and harassment at work


Bullying is the misuse of the ‘power’ of an individual or group derived from their position, seniority, physical attributes, gender, race or nationality against other people. The following types of behaviour, when repeated or occurring as part of a pattern of behaviour would be considered bullying:

  •  Verbal abuse
  •  Excluding or isolating employees
  •  Psychological harassment
  •  Assigning meaningless tasks unrelated to the job
  •  Giving employees impossible work assignments
  •  Deliberately changing work rosters to inconvenience particular employees
  •  Deliberately withholding information that is vital for effective work performance

Physical Attack – means the direct or indirect application of force by a person to the body, or to clothing or equipment worn by, another person, where that application creates a risk to health and safety.

Threat – means a statement or behaviour that causes a person to believe they are in danger of being physically attacked.

Unreasonable Behaviour – means behaviour that a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would expect to victimise, humiliate, undermine or threaten another person. It includes actions of individuals or a group of employees, and may involve using a system of work as a means of victimising, humiliating, undermining or threatening an employee or group of employees.

NB: The repeated nature of the behaviour refers to persistence and not the specific form the behaviour takes. It includes situations in which a pattern of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour can be established.

Victimisation – means unfair treatment connected to a complaint of discrimination or harassment.

Workplace Violence – means any incident where an employee is physically attacked or threatened in the workplace.

Workplace violence includes, but is not limited to the following:

  •  Threats of violence or personal injury
  •  Objects being thrown at an employee
  •  Pushing, shoving, punching, kicking, grabbing, biting, spitting
  •  Attacks with any type of weapon
  •  Criminal assault
  •  Sexual assault

This list is not exhaustive and other factors which may contribute to the risk of bullying include:

  •  Organisational change
  •  Workforce characteristics
  •  Workplace relationships
  •  Work systems


For the worker
Stress and ill health can become part of the daily life of those being bullied. Symptoms can include:

  •  Anxiety
  •  Headaches
  •  Nausea
  •  Sleeplessness
  •  Skin rashes
  •  Irritable bowel syndrome
  •  High blood pressure
  •  Tearfulness
  •  Loss of self confidence
  •  Various illnesses of the organs, such as kidneys
  •  Thoughts of suicide
  •  Reliance on unhealthy ‘stress relievers’ such as alcohol or drugs

For the boss
Bullying is recognised as a major cause of stress in the workplace and by law, stress must be dealt with in the same way as any other health and safety hazard. Employers who fail to tackle bullying can pay a high price:

  •  Lost time – because staff are affected by stress and ill health
  •  Lost incentive -because morale is low
  •  Reduced work output and quality of services
  •  Lost resources – because people who are trained and experienced leave the organisation
  •  Adverse media attention

Anyone can be bullied. Casual employees, part-time workers and those employed on individual contracts are generally more vulnerable to bullying because they are less likely to complain.

Fellow workers, supervisors or managers can carry out bullying, however in the vast majority of cases bullying is carried out by a person in authority.

How the PSA can help
Are you being bullied? The PSA provides advice and information to members regarding workplace rights and obligations. PSA members can contact us for more information. If required, the PSA can provide members with individual representation.