Workplace Violence: Risk Assessment


While inspecting a workplace, the employer, or employer’s representative often ask how to perform the mandatory risk assessment for violence in the workplace. Even if I knew what I would do if I were in charge of that workplace, I could not tell them.

Every workplace is different, and it is up to the workplace to decide what they need. They know the processes involved, the location, and the culture of the workplace. But, I could, and did offer information on where they could find assistance. I’ve included a few links at the end of this blog.

Health and Safety Inspectors for the Ministry of Labour (MOL) follow the MOL internal policy:  Inspectors cannot determine that a workplace’s policies or assessments are adequate or inadequate. We only ask, do they have one?

If during a routine inspection Inspectors find that an employer has a written risk assessment, they can ask to see it. No judgment is made. If there is no assessment, an order will probably be issued.

That is not to say that the Inspector cannot delve deeper. There are prescribed elements in health and safety law that Inspectors can and do write orders for.   The Occupational Health and Safety Act (the ACT) Part III.0.1, includes the need for a risk assessment and lists the elements to be included.

Employers must perform an assessment of the risk of violence in a workplace. In order to do so, the employer needs to review the physical environment of the workplace: where is it located? Is it in an open space with few neighbours, or in high density neighbourhood? Are there security gates or fences? Are there alarms or dogs? Has the workplace experienced violence previously?  What are the risks in similar workplaces?

It is not enough to look only at the physical environment and see what security measures have been introduced; security measures must not create additional safety hazards.

I remember walking into an auto shop on the outskirts of Toronto. It had a back exit door that was padlocked to prevent thieves from entering from the back alley. Unfortunately, while it did prevent theft, the door created a fire trap with no escape for workers from the rear of the shop. Orders were issued. The employer removed the lock and put in a door with a panic bar. Workers could get out, thieves could not get in.

The workplace must identify the risks that are specific to their workplace and then assess those risks. Does your workplace have direct contact with volatile people? Do workers work alone at night or in high crime areas or with jewels or cash? The employer must assess each risk and determine what the risk level is. Is it high, medium, low? Once determined, the employer should develop their Violence and Risk Assessment Program according to the risk.   Some workplaces used a matrix with 5 being the highest risk and 0 being, of course, the lowest.

If you have a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC) or a worker representative, they should be consulted about the risks they have discovered or where they believe a risk of violence exists. Workers often know more about what is going on in the workplace than the employer or owner of a business.

The outline of my risk assessment program would include some of the following:


The purposes of the Workplace Violence and Risk Assessment Program are to:
(a} observe and assess the potential for worker exposure to violence from:
1. another worker;
2. the employer or supervisor;
3. a member of the public;
(b) observe and assess the potential for worker exposure to violence from domestic violence;
(c) establish plans to reduce the risk of violence
(d) decide what risks require a detailed violence analysis
(e) prioritize the areas with risks from high to low and the writing of measures and procedures.
(f) review and change current measures and procedures that increase worker exposure to violence.
(g) develop an investigation process
(h) identify who will investigate any complaints of potential or actual violence
(i) outline privacy procedures


Someone in the organization must be held accountable for the health and safety of workers. The Employers Workplace Violence and Risk Assessment program should identify who is responsible for the development, maintenance and implementation of the Program.

Records must be kept of the risks and the risk assessment, the date and the person responsible for the record.

A section of the program should identify by title, and location the person who developed and maintains the program. As well, the program should outline the person responsible for:
(a) performing the risk assessment,
(b) implementing the assessment,
(c) investigating incidents or complaints of violence,
(d) being the custodian of all records.

This blog does not aim to replace the skills and knowledge of workers in any workplace. My hope is that it provides employers and workers with a better understanding and appreciation for the complex job of establishing and maintaining a workplace safe from violence.

Further Information:
Ministry of Labour: 
Sample Policy: 
Health and Safety Partners: 
Public Services Health & Safety Association:


Workplace Violence Assessment

If your workplace has not yet performed an assessment for violence, how can you create a Violence Protection Program?

What if your workplace is in a high crime area where gun shots are heard on a daily basis, or where two workers have been brawling in the alley. Would the program you develop to protect workers be the same as if your workplace was in a safe, residential area and workers were all were best friends?

Every workplace is different.  A drug store with it’s high risk of opiate theft, is vastly different from a woman’s clothing store next door and requires a different approach to safety.  The doggie daycare in a trendy neighbourhood open 6am to 6pm needs a different policy and program than a convenience store in the same neighbourhood open 24 hours.firearm-409000__180

An assessment needs to take into account the type of workplace, the nature of the workplace, and the type or conditions of work . The employer is responsible to assess the risks of violence to their workers based upon these factors.

The employer should look at other workplaces that perform similar work. Health Care employers can look at statistics for other operations in their sector; whether home care, hospital, clinic, or in a forensic health care unit.  The employer can research what others are doing, what equipment they are using or tools they have to implement their programs. Networking with others in your sector can prove invaluable. Asking workers, or the health and safety committee members or worker representative for their input is invaluable for information the employer may not be aware of.

Likewise, owners of service stations, auto body shops or manufacturing companies can look at other businesses to see what programs they have in place: check with them to see the types of policies and programs they have to prevent violence and/or theft that often leads to violence.

Once the assessment has been completed, the employer must advise the joint health and safety committee, or their worker representative of the results of the assessment and provide a copy, if the assessment is in writing.  Where there is no committee or worker representative, workers must be advised of the results of the assessment.  A copy should be provided to workers if it’s in writing, or workers must be told how to get a copy.

As with all policies, the workplace violence policy must be reviewed at least annually, and more often if necessary.  The same is true for the violence assessment.  If there has been a violent episode in the workplace and the assessment didn’t see it coming,  it’s time to review and update the assessment and workplace violence program.

My next blog will deal with one way to perform an assessment for violence in the workplace..

If you want further assistance regarding violence in the workplace contact Gloria via e-mail at



On May 15th, 2017, the Ontario Ministry of Labour published a report: ‘Preventing workplace violence in the health care sector

Outlined in the report is the alarming statistic that in the health care sector with only 11.7% of Ontario’s workers, 56% of lost-time injuries occurred to registered nurses due to workplace violence.

The report made non-enforceable recommendations; two of them, Recommendations 4 and 5, were to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act (the ACT.)  But until the ACT is amended, employers need to go beyond the minimum standards in the ACT or follow what is currently enforceable.

Park III.0.1, Section 32 of the ACT outlines the legislative requirements of employers regarding Violence and Harassment.  It does not matter what sector a workplace is in:  Health Care, Mining, Forestry, Construction, Window Cleaning, Diving or Industrial – all employers have the same duties.

If a workplace has six or more workers, the policy needs to be in writing.   Less than six, the employer still needs the policy but, it does not need to be in writing, unless an Inspector orders the employer to do so.

What I would ask as an Inspector,  when performing an inspection or investigation in the workplace was: do you have a workplace violence policy?

When an employer said that they had a written policy, I would ask if I could see it.  There were more times than I can count when the employer representative would shuffle papers on their desk while letting me know that it was there somewhere.  Or, the person would search the titles of binders on a bookshelf for five minutes to find the right one. After repeating that it was there somewhere, he or she would pull a binder from the top shelf, blow off the dust and open it until they found the statement.

The ACT makes it clear:  the policy must be posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace.

A policy is absolutely useless if it’s in a binder that no one ever uses, or locked up in the manager’s office and no one is allowed in.  Other times, I would see the workplace violence policy posted on a board behind glass on a shop floor.  That’s fine and dandy, but not if there are other hidden pages that workers can’t read.   Workers must have access to all pages of the policy.

It has been a constant debate whether or not policies can be in electronic form.  As of this date, it appears that there is no legal reason why it must be on paper, as long as all workers have access to a computer in the workplace, know how to use it, and have been trained in how to retrieve the policy.  I would suggest that the employer also have a printed copy of the policy in the event of a power outage.

As well, recall that all policies need to be reviewed at least annually. So putting a date on the policy will be important when the Inspector comes a calling.


Similar to the employer’s general health and safety policy and the harassment policy, the violence in the workplace policy needs to be implemented.  It’s worthless if an employer’s policy states that violence will not be tolerated, then does not bother with measures and procedures to put the policy into effect.

Workers need to have a way to call for immediate help if they are in a violent situation or one that is likely to escalate into violence.  In health care it’s not uncommon for health care workers to have personal alarms that they can use to call for help, or security cameras that show what is happening in a potentially dangerous area.  Not all workplaces need personal alarms or security cameras, but where this type of equipment is needed, the tools need to be the appropriate type, in the appropriate place, be maintained in good condition and used.

Workplaces often would say that their procedure is to dial 911 and ask for the police.  This is not an acceptable procedure.  The police should definitely be called after violence has occurred because violence is a criminal offence.  But, the police are not there to be called when two workers are arguing or begin to fight.  Management needs to ensure that all employees are trained before violence takes place in how to defuse the situation.   Where there is a chance that violence involves weapons and a fatality or serious injury could occur, the workplace needs to follow their own procedures, but should also be able to call for police for backup.

When violence or the threat of violence occurs, the measures and procedures developed by the employer must include domestic violence and sexual violence.  This topic will be discussed in a later blog.  Regardless of the type of violence that has occurred, measures and procedures must include how workers or management can report the incident.  Do they report to a manager? A supervisor?  The owner?  And what if the violent act was by one of those people?  All of this should be detailed.

When developing policies, and measures and procedures the employer must consider how the workplace parties will investigate incidents of violence.  When the party that committed the violence is the employer an outside consultant should be retained to perform the investigation.

Orders for training of workers and supervisors is one of the most common orders I’ve issued to employers.  All workers need to be informed that workplace violence policies and procedures exist, then instructed in how to use them in the event they are ever needed. Workers will not have the time to leisurely sit back and read the employer’s procedures while being attacked or threatened.  Some employers send their workers to outside courses, and while this is commendable, not all workplaces need to go this route.

So, how can an employer create a policy with written measures and procedures that actually protect workers?  Just googling then printing out another company’s policy and procedures from the Internet is not a good idea.  A policy with measures and procedures for a health care facility or a construction company probably will not work in a small workplace that makes steel widgets.

In order to ensure that the workplace has a suitable policy with the appropriate steps for management and workers to take before, during or after a violent incident, an assessment must be made.  How else would an employer know what a suitable policy for the workplace is and how to implement it?   When an Inspector next visits, ensure your policies and procedures are up to date and workers able to tell the inspector precisely what they have been told, to avoid any orders.


The Assessment will be the next topic in this blog.


If you need assistance in developing or maintaining your policies and procedures, contact Gloria at:











Arenal Volcano

Workplace Harassment: Be Proactive – Develop Your Plan

Arenal in Costa Rica is an active volcano that is unstable and dangerous.  In case it suddenly erupts, visitors are no longer allowed to climb it.  For employers, an unstable and dangerous worker can become a nightmare.  Like a volcano, a disgruntled or fired worker who feels they have nothing to lose can erupt in violence.  A Plan, that includes a policy and program, prepared before the worker blows, can prevent a tragedy that is becoming all too common.

Cases of workplace harassment and violence are on the rise in Canada. In the 10 years between 1996 and 2005 the cases of workplace harassment and violence rose by 40%. Later statistics are very difficult to locate without a central body to collect the data, but according to an International Labour Organization study,  Canada has one of the highest rates of assaults and sexual harassment in the workplace in the world.

As a former Industrial Inspector with Health Care Lead at the Ministry of Labour (MOL), it did not surprise me that in 2014, 686 Lost-time violence related claims were accepted by WSIB for Health Care Workers – more than construction, manufacturing and mining combined.

As far as I could tell while performing administrative reviews in a workplace, the section on workplace harassment and violence in the ACT is scarcely understood, or followed by employers.  So let’s make it very clear.  Every workplace must prepare a workplace harassment and violence policy and program.

The Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (the ACT) sets out roles and responsibilities with respect to  harassment and violence in the Workplace.  Harassment is often a precursor to violence, so every employer should pay strict attention to any instances of harassment that they become aware of.


Under the ACT employers are required to develop a work place harassment policy and program.  The policy must be written, posted and reviewed annually, just like the general health and safety policy discussed in my June 13th blog.

Once again, workplaces with one to five workers do not need to put the policy or program in written form. But, and this is important, they must have one; if an Inspector feels it necessary, they can ask any worker to explain their employer’s harassment policy and procedures.

In order to implement the policy, a program must be developed by the employer.  The program must include sexual harassment. And because there is no point to having policies and programs if workers are not informed of them,  the employer must provide information and instruction to their workers, in other words, training.

During my inspections I found that many employers neglect to include reporting procedures. Employers must develop written measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace harassment. Who they report it to should be included in the employer’s program.

The employer has a duty under the ACT to review the policy and program as often as needed, but at least annually. The employer must also investigate complaints of harassment. How the investigation is dealt with is workplace specific and must be included in the program.

The employer’s program must set out who investigates if the worker claims the harasser is the employer.  Sometimes an outside person would be called out to investigate.  Sometimes an internal person can do the job, but only if that person can remain objective, which may not be the case if the employer has the power to fire the person.

A MOL inspector has the authority to order an employer to hire an impartial person to investigate complaints or incidents of workplace harassment. This would apply if the inspector feels that the circumstances warrant it.

The program must also set out how confidentiality would be maintained during the investigation. Workers that have filed a complaint with their employer have the right to do so in confidence. Finally the results of the investigation must be provided in writing to the complainant and the harasser, if the harasser is also employed at the workplace.

Assault and sexual violence rates in Canada
Violence in Health Care
Harassment Code of Practice – MOL

POLICY STATEMENT: What’s the Point?

A Policy is not just a flowery statement that the Ministry of Labour (MOL) Inspector ordered the employer to prepare. It’s a document that shows that the employer takes the appropriate measures to protect and promote health and safety in their workplace or workplaces.  Every worker should be able to go home at the end of their day in the same physical and mental condition that they came to work in.

The Policy indicates management’s willingness to follow health and safety law, but more importantly, tells workers that they take health and safety seriously, and want to protect their most important asset – their workers.  And, unless the business is a one or two person show, without workers, they would be out of business.

The workplace health and safety policy is a worthless piece of paper unless it is actually implemented; hence every every workplace should develop, implement and maintain a current health and safety program. What goes into that program will depend upon the type of business along with other factors such as numbers of workers, hazards inherent in the workplace and types of equipment used.

The written program sets health and safety standards for the various elements of their program including safe operating procedures.


As discussed previously, the policy should be dated and signed by the most senior person in the organization or workplace. This holds true for the health and safety program. Senior management must ensure that someone is held responsible for interpreting the policy and program and ensuring that it is maintained current. An issue date should be posted on each element of the program, and revision dates entered as required.

Why bother with a written policy and program?   If your business grows from five workers to eight, the health and safety policy must be put into written form.  Where a business or organization has many workplaces, the policy and program will ensure consistency.  As well, every worker, supervisor, or manager in the workplace will be aware of exactly what is expected of them in terms of health and safety.

A policy and implementation program is not a flowery statement that the employer can forget about as soon as the Inspector walks out the door and off’s their orders.  It is a critical part of their business and should reflect the integrity of the owner, or their top level managers and executives.

June 13, 2017.

What the Inspector Wants to Know When She Comes A Calling

The first thing I asked upon entry into a workplace, in order to perform an inspection or commence an investigation, was who should I speak to with respect to health and safety. Sometimes it was the owner of a small business,  a supervisor or, in the case of large corporations, a senior line manager.

This question answers an important fact about the administration and viability of the workplace’s health and safety program.  If no-one seemed to know what I was asking, it was usually going to be a long, long day.

But when the workplace parties did know, and after introducing myself I would hand the person a business card.   I would then explain the authority under which I was in the workplace i.e. the Occupational Health and Safety Act.  In the 11 1/2 years that I was an Inspector I showed my badge twice. Both times, because the workplace parties wanted to see it.img_0061-e1497282302182.jpg

The first questions I asked after determining the numbers of workers in the workplace, and the types of work performed were: “Do you have a copy of the Act in the workplace?  Is it posted? ”  Often times I would see a dirty outdated copy hung in a shop covered in dust and grime. If the copy was not the most recent I would issue an order and write in my narrative that the copy was dirty;  it isn’t written in the ACT that the copy had to be clean, but if I wouldn’t touch it, why would any worker who wanted to review it?

Next I would ask: “do you have a health and safety policy? Is the policy in written form?  Is it posted?  Have all workers and supervisors been trained and educated in the policy?” I would then ask to observe the policy.

The lack of a policy is one program element that I issued hundreds of orders for, and not reviewing the policy annually I issued hundreds more.  Many businesses  were not aware that they needed a policy, or if they were, some of them were written years ago, and had not been looked at since.

If you are an employer or worker, be aware that every workplace requires a policy statement.  In the case of a workplace with 5 or fewer than 5 workers, a written policy is not required.

Every written policy must be reviewed at least annually.  And as a former Inspector, I would want to see a date, and a signature to ensure that there was someone who was accountable for the workplace health and safety program.

If you want a generic health and safety policy go here:

 If you don’t have a copy of the Act you can download or print one here.

Workplace Health and Safety – A Retired Inspector’s View

While working as an Industrial Health and Safety Inspector in Ontario, I observed first hand what employers and workers know about workplace safety.   And, for the majority it means — not much.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR or, Why I’m starting this blog

In 1984, I graduated from Humber College’s Safety Engineering Technology Program.   The health and safety act was never mentioned in the years I studied there. After graduation, I took a position in British Columbia working on the University of British Columbia’s Lung Cancer Screening Project for the Mining Industry.  No laws were mentioned there either.

I moved back to Toronto when my contract was up and was hired as the Corporate Safety Coordinator for Northern Telecom Canada (NTC).  During my five years in that position, up until the new corporate executives dragged the company into the mud,  not once did I consider the Occupational Health and Safety Act or Regulations made under the ACT for any of the programs I oversaw.   I didn’t even know that laws existed, let alone that we had to follow them.

Before NTC’s untimely collapse and after their corporate legal counsel took over the reigns of the corporate health, safety and environment department, our health and safety team published HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE WORKPLACE: – a model program. It was approved by the Ministry of Labour of the time.


The team include a lawyer, myself, the Director of Health and Safety, the Corporate Physician, our Nurse Manager, and an assistant who typed it all out.  In 1988 the book was published by CCH, and if I heard correctly, it became a Canadian Bestseller; 5,000 copies were sold – which says more about the Canadian publishing industry than it does about health and safety.

We worked on that book for over a year.  I sweated over every word I contributed.  At the time I had no idea that my input would be tossed out and that the lawyer would write the book himself; it ended up reading like legislation – dry and boring as hell.  Not once was I asked to review Occupational Health and Safety Law when considering what should go into a model health and safety program.

Then WHMIS came along.   When Northern Telecom joined other corporations in the Canadian Manufacturers Association to write the new Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS),  I begin to realize that there were legal aspects to Health and Safety – or at least I realized that a law was being created that employers would be required to comply with.

Becoming an Inspector meant I finally learned the laws governing health and safety in Ontario.  It also meant I could meet the people responsible for health and safety in their workplaces and assist them to meet their obligations.  I figured that if I’ve saved even one worker’s life, it’s all been worth it.

It is for the reasons listed above that I have decided to write this blog.  To inform and hopefully assist employers understand what they need to do to ensure their workplace is as safe as possible.

Ontario Occupational Health and Safety: How Businesses Can Avoid Orders

In the 11 and 1/2 years that I was an Occupational Health and Safety Inspector with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, many of the owners,  supervisors and workers in the workplaces I visited had no idea of their responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act  ( OHSA.)

My position as an Offences Officer was one of great powers ;  it allowed me to enter into workplaces without a warrant , take up what equipment I wanted, and to speak to whom ever I chose.  I could take photographs,  interview workers, supervisors and directors of the workplaces.  With those powers;  I issued orders wrote requirements, and on occasion prepared briefs to take a company to court.

Very few people have actually read the OHSA, and fewer yet are aware of the regulation made under the OHSA that they must adhere to.

What I liked most about the job was  assisting businesses to meet compliance.  Now that I have retired from the Ministry, I want to continue to assist businesses and individuals understand this important piece of Legislation.  This blog will introduce the OHSA and Regulations to those that own a business or work for a business that needs more information.

June 5, 2017