Workplace Violence: Risk Assessment

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND RISK ASSESSMENT PROGRAM

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:

WORKPLACE VIOLENCE AND RISK ASSESSMENT PROGRAM

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

RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

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:

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