Retired Ministry of Labour Inspector writes about safety
Author: Safety Matters
I am an occupational health and safety professional with over 30 years of experience. I've developed and provided safety training to hundreds of workers and managers. In my career I've been a manager, an officer, a coordinator and have travelled extensively for work. I have won writing awards and published professional papers. I've held many responsible positions, including over 11 years with the Ministry of Labour as an Inspector and Offences Officer. It's time to stop working for others and start practicing occupational health and safety on my own time. I now explore and document parks in Canada and around the world for enjoyment, while offering employers assistance with their health and safety programs.
Since the appointment of a Chief Prevention Officer in Ontario, health and safety training standards are high on the MOL’s priority list. It’s about time, I say. During my years as an Inspector I found that many training programs were inadequate or downright dangerous. Dangerous because they did not provide all the information workers needed to work safely. Inadequate because they did not provide workers or supervisors with critical information about their rights, duties or responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or it’s Regulations.
Take WHMIS for example. In my last post about training, I wrote that suppliers of chemicals often would perform WHMIS training in workplaces that purchased their industrial chemicals. Workers, when asked how they would use a chemical safely, or what to do in the event of a spill, didn’t have a clue. And if language wasn’t enough of a barrier to their knowledge, their knowledge of what protective equipment they should use, the health hazards, first aid or how to store or use the chemical, was sadly lacking. But would the development of training standards help? Perhaps by ensuring that only training providers who meet a certain criteria could provide training, and secondly by ensuring that trainers themselves met certain qualifications.
Standards developed or legislated by the MOL over the years have been a welcome addition to health and safety programs for safety professionals. First there were standards set out in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) document entitled “Certification Standards for Joint Health and Safety Committees. The current JHSC Certification Training Program Standard specifies the criteria that a program must meet in order to be approved by the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO).
As well, workers who work at heights in construction had until October 1, 2017 to complete the training program under the Working at Heights Standards. A listing of training providers and trainers is on the MOL website, if you’re looking for an approved training program.
We know that under the OHSA, a supervisor must be a competent person. But therein lies a problem; in 2005 during an investigation it was plain that a particular supervisor was not competent. As an inspector, I could not write an order on competency, because perhaps the supervisor was competent when hired. The supervisor in question, when queried, had no idea of the dangers or potential hazards in the workplace and was not familiar with the OHSA. I had to write the order under another section of the OHSA to guarantee that the employer provided training to the supervisor.
To make certain that, as a minimum, supervisors and workers are at least familiar with the OHSA, the MOL developed Health and Safety Awareness Training which came into effect July, 2014. Every worker and supervisor in Ontario must complete this training, either online or in booklet form. Once completed, they never need to take it again. I’m not certain if there is any research into whether it has been effective or not. It’s intent was good though. At least if workers and supervisors actually complete the training they will be aware that the OHSA exists. And that’s a boon for workers from other countries where even discussing health and safety is cause for dismissal.
The CPO training standards for training providers and for trainers will hopefully bring uniformity to the multi-million dollar training industry. Training providers must meet certain criteria and in turn must ensure that the Instructors they hire are qualified to train and are knowledgeable about the subject they are teaching.
On August 3, 2017, the Toronto Star’s Headline “Coroner’s jury calls for better de-escalation training for police” came as no surprise to many. Year after year, and always after another citizen with mental health issues is shot dead by an officer, we continue to read the same recommendations for training – none of them legally binding.
Ministry of Labour (MOL) Inspectors are all too aware of the necessity of training in de-escalation techniques. Inspectors themselves are often confronted by angry and potentially violent people; employers who believe it’s their god given right to do whatever they want in their workplaces, and workers who are terrified that the Inspector will shut the workplace down and destroy their livelihood. I’ve been verbally threatened myself, as have many of my former co-workers.
When I commenced my job with the MOL, new Inspectors received excellent training at the Police Academy in Alymer. De-escalation techniques were a part of that training. When someone holds a rifle in your face, as what happened in Aylmer, de-escalation becomes a very important skill. But as for any training, it should be reviewed at least annually and assessed for effectiveness.
Health Care Workers are at high risk for violence, perhaps at an even higher risk than Police Officers. And similar to MOL Inspectors, they have no weapons. I recall reviewing one facility’s Violence Protection Program and their training. Workers had all undergone de-escalation training, but unfortunately the rest of their program was lacking and workers were still being injured on the job. A review of their policy and program along with measures and procedures to protect workers from violence was found to be ineffective.
Training for workers is not just about violence or de-escalation techniques. There are many hazards in the workplace that need to be assessed and training planned for. Training is and has always been a major focus for MOL Inspectors. If not performing almost annually blitzes for new and young workers to ensure they have received appropriate training prior to starting their new job, Inspectors proactively review an employer’s training records to ensure workers are trained in subjects that are relevant to the job.
While the MOL Policy is that Inspectors do not assess whether an employer’s policies or training programs are adequate, there are a few things they can look for when making a reasonable judgment on whether or not to write an order or even to prosecute.
As Provincial Enforcement Officers, MOL Inspectors first look to the ACT and to Regulations made under the ACT. The all encompassing section 25 (2)(a) of the ACT is pretty clear: employers must provide information, instruction and supervision to protect workers health and safety; that means training – not just handing them a sheet of paper and telling them to go home and read it.
Inspectors rely on specific Regulations, such as the Regulation for Health Care and Residential Facilities, Regulation 67. Contravention of section 10 of that regulation means that Inspectors can issue an order to an employer to instruct and train their workers who wear respirators in their use, care and limitations, as well as ensuring workers are fit tested for the respirator they will wear.
Workplace Hazardarous Information System (WHMIS) or Regulation 860 section 7 requires that all workers that work with or in proximity to a controlled product are trained. This should include training in and understanding of the hazard symbols. It’s not uncommon for workers to be questioned by an Inspector about the chemicals that they work with, how they are used and stored, what protection is required if needed, and what the hazards of the chemical are.
Often suppliers will provide a workplace with free training in the chemicals that they sell; employers should ensure that the workers are being informed in clearly understood language about the hazards and how to protect themselves. Training on the safety data sheets should be a part of that training.
Other requirements for training are found in Regulation 297/13 where all workers and supervisors must have basic Occupational Health and Safety awareness training.
Workers often asked me if the employer could make them pay for their own training, or make them take their training on their own time at home. My answer – it depends. The employer must pay if it was a legally required training program made under the ACT or Regulations – for example Certification Training. If training is not enforceable under the Act but is simply a recommendation, for example, as in the Police Officers’ cases, then chances are they will be ignored. At a minimum, any training program must be reviewed and assessed for effectiveness at least annually.
During my tenure as an Industrial Inspector with the Ministry of Labour, I was often disappointed to see the poor quality of training that workers received. Many times the training was not developed by the employer. Companies that claimed to provide training to meet employers’ needs were often more interested in making a few bucks than they were at keeping workers safe. Then again, some training programs I reviewed went over and above the minimum standards.
Inspectors may expect a workplace to follow standards such as the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Standard Z94.4-02 with respect to respirator fit-testing but can not write an order under that Standard. It is not enforceable. An order can still be issued under the ACT, section 25 (2)(h)but the order cannot mention the CSA Standard.
In the case of the police, should mandatory de-escalation training be enshrined in law? If so, what would it include? Should that law include frequent and at least annual reviews of the training program? An annual review can identify if the training they currently receive is adequate or inadequate. It could also identify those officers (they are workers too) who need to be retrained or reassigned.
Before developing any training program, the developer must ensure that the training meets the needs of the target audience. For most workplaces a Job Hazard Analyses should be undertaken where possible. A good developer will define the audience and ensure that the training program provides relevant information and skills. The program must include information and instruction to workers in what they need to know, then ensure that they are supervised once training is complete. And don’t forget – keep meticulous records. When an Inspector comes a calling – they can and probably will ask for them.
For More Information or comments you can contact Gloria.
EVERYONE KNOWS what a millimetre looks like: a thousandth of a metre, right? Now try wrapping your mind’s eye around something that is a million times smaller than that.
Welcome to the world of nanotechnology, where some very small things are leaving occupational hygienists with some very big questions.
Nanotechnology is currently used primarily in industries and research facilities that manufacture or construct materials measured in nanometres (that’s billionths of a metre). despite current limited applications, the technology is raising concern that it may introduce new classifications of toxins or environmental hazards.
Nanopaticles are created through high-energy processes such as welding, fuel-processing and generation of diesel exhaust. These processes produce particulate matter that, when inhaled, enter the respiratory and digestive system, but can eventually travel to the liver, central nervous system and cardiovascular system. Being as small as they are, nanoparticles behave more like gas molecules than solid particles.
Conclusive evidence exists about the toxic nature of vehicle exhausts, says a paper released last April by the ETC Group (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration). But scientists do not believe it’s possible to infer conclusions about toxicity of industrial pollutants to manufactured nanoparticles. In other words, there is a difference in toxicity between materials created as a by-product and those that are intentionally manufactured.
An occupational hygienist based in Windsor, Ontario says “respirable particle effect is no longer confined to the lung since smaller particles are suggested to translocate to the blood while lung inflammation invokes systemic responses. Similarly, nanoparticles are theorized as being able to cross the blood brain barrier. There are great health impacts associated with this.”
Little is known about the risk of exposure during manufacturing and handling of nanoparticles. There are no regulatory requirements for the testing of nanoparticles for health, safety or environmental impacts. Conclusive date for risk assessment is conspicuously lacking.
Add to this the potential introduction of new hazards and occupational hygienists in sectors using nanotechnology are presented with substantial challenges. Those challenges, in turn, move on to the companies for which these hygienists work.
Everything on earth is made from atoms and properties of specific substances depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we consider pure carbon, for example, one rearrangement produces graphite while another produces a diamond. Consider also that if we rearrange the atoms in sand, then add a few other trace elements, we have computer chips.
Nanoparticles are so small they cannot be seen by the unaided eye. Although not the only interpretation, the National Nanotechnology Initiative in the United States defines “nano” as between one and 100 nanometres (nm). Because of their size, these very small particles can pass right through particulate filters, including those worn by workers to protect themselves. If a filter was fine enough to trap the molecules, it would also severely restrict any air passing through.
Nanoparticles are currently used in paints, coatings for textiles, sunscreens, cosmetics and power machinery, along with the carbon nanotubes intended for electronics. The National Science Foundation reports that, within 10 years, the entire semiconductor industry will rely on nanotechnology and on nano-materials. Fundamental changes are also expected in terms of medicine, as well as drug production and delivery.
But before nanoparticles become part of the paint or sunscreen, they have to be produced. That means people manufacturing these particles are doing something that is seemingly far more comp;ex than just rearranging those carbon atoms into diamonds. And to produce new products in future, industry will have to respond by creating new tools and new manufacturing processes — that is molecular manufacturing systems.
The smaller the particulate size, the ETC Group paper notes, the more toxic and reactive it may be. Regardless of the chemical composition of a ‘nanothing’, ultra-small materials can be ultra-hazardous. It is already well-known that ultra-fine (generally defined as particles measuring less than 100 nm) materials have the ability to induce respiratory damage.
A paper prepared by Dr. David Warheit, research fellow for DuPont Haskell Laboratory for Health and Environmental Sciences in Newark, Delaware, says toxicology studies in rats demonstrate that ultra-fine particles administered to the lung cause a greater inflammatory response when compared with larger particles of identical chemical composition at equivalent mass concentrations.
In 2002, when researchers at DuPont instilled tubes of carbon (nanotubes developed for their strength and electrical conductivity) into the lungs of rats, the rats gasped for air, and 15 percent quickly died. Yet the experiment did not answer the critical question of what quantity and what level of exposure is safe, or what LEL of exposure is necessary for the rats to breathe in damaging amounts of the nanotubes.
This, says occupational hygienist Neil Langerman, is currently not a problem since, to protect the product, all of the processes are carried out in quite clean envionments, with little to no dust.
But harm to the lungs is not the only worry, says a recent article in the New York Times by Barnaby J. Feder, with research indicating inhaled nanoparticles can move directly into the brain. In the article, Feder concludes this may carry health impacts and make it very difficult to draw common conclusions about the potential effect of nanoparticles on human health.
The cost and difficulties of researching risk has caused some companies to put a halt to their programs. The French research wing of the cosmetics giant, L’Oreal, has stopped research into the characteristics of buckyballs – nanotubes made from buckminsterfullerones – after independent researchers raised questions about toxicity.
Despite 25 years of laboratory work on nanoparticles around the world, scientists have still not managed to agree upon safety protocols to protect workers even though many organizations, such as the Canadian Institute of health Research have attempted to do so. This, most likely, is because the toxicology of nanoparticles in not yet understood and groups cannot agree on the risks of the new technology to human health and the environment.
There are no tests for the effects of inhaled nanoparticles, and no threshold limit values (TLVs). As such, there is no level in the work environment at which an occupational hygienist can ascertain the safety or health risk to workers who are exposed.
In the United States, the national Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)has performed some research with regard to airborne and dermal exposure routes and toxicity of single-walled carbon nanotubes (allotrope of carbon). Over at the Environmental Protection Agency, a focused research progjram on the impacts of manufactured nanomaterials on human health and the environment is expected to begin early this year.
And the national Toxicology Program, for its part, will develop protocols over the next five years to test for toxicity in animals using nanomaterials provided by the Center for Biological and Environmental Nonotechnology (CBEN) at Rice University in Houston, Texas. The Center was founded in 2001 to address the impact of engineered nanomaterials on human health and the environment.
“We have a unique opportunity to ensure that a nascent industry develops responsibly by addressing safety concerns early in its development says Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, executive director for education and public policy at the CBEN.
Today’s occupational hygienists will continue to face a substantial challenge regarding how to monitor, assess and control possible workplace hazards with little understanding of the hazard.
But there may be another side that should be considered. If technology enables the elimination of current industrial processes, certain toxic exposures will be either eliminated or reduced.
The best course of action, right now, may be to keep abreast of research and changes in nanotechnology. If nanoparticles are present in your workplace, stakeholders need to discuss the options for strategies that will minimize exposure.
Gloria’s article was first published in OHS Canada.
My first introduction to the application of nanotechnology was during an Inspection of a cosmetics plant in Toronto, Ontario. Workers in the manufacturing department looked like laboratory workers employed in any large hospital or research centre: they were gowned up, gloved up, masked up. My first question was, “what’s your strategy to protect workers?”
Maybe nothing causes more dismay to a person on the brink of sleep than the persistant, zzzzzzzz of a mosquito near their ear. Every camper, hiker, and sunset watcher has something in common – hatred for public enemy number one, the mosquito.
Mosquitos are responsible for malaria, dengue, many forms of encephalitis, as well as passing the Zika virus and the West Nile virus onto humans.
Mosquito borne illnesses cause close to one million deaths annually and affect almost 700 million people globally.
With climate change a reality, West Nile Virus (WNV) has become endemic in North America. Mosquitoes thrive in the weather conditions Ontario and the rest of North America is experiencing.
Continued rain and rising water levels along with pools of stagnant water provide a perfect cradle for mosquito larvae to breed.
Outside workers who work in areas when mosquitos are present are at risk of being bitten from the potentially virus carrying pest including, farmers, foresters, landscapers, groundskeepers and gardeners. Also at risk are painters, roofers, pavers, construction workers, labourers, mechanics, entomologists and other field workers who conduct surveillance and other research activities outdoors.
It’s not only outside workers that are at risk. When performing diagnostics for the West Nile Virus, medical or laboratory workers may also be at risk of infection if they are accidently stuck while testing for the virus or sustain a cut while handling infected tissue.
Organizations and employers that have workers who may be at risk of being bitten must develop and maintain a program that will minimize the risk to workers from contracting WNV. Ministry of Labour Inspectors are informed of WNV and proactively inspect sectors where workers may be exposed to the Virus. That includes golf courses, parks, farms, recreational facilities and other workplaces where mosquitoes are present or water can collect and become a breeding ground for the rapacious pest.
Because mosquitos need a standing body of water for larvae to develop into mature insects, stagnant pools that can found in troughs, ditches, rain barrels, ponds, and tires, must be emptied at least every 4-5 days, or treated with larvicides to reduce the mosquito population.
A WNV Policy and Program to protect workers must include measures and procedures, and workers must be trained in the employer’s steps to protect them.
For outside workers at low risk, a program that informs workers of the risks in addition to insect repellant provided by the employer might suffice. For others, a more comprehensive program is in order.
In Ontario, any WNV program should run during the time that mosquitoes are most likely to be active – usually from July to September and from dusk to dawn. But, as hikers and outside workers know all too well, mosquitoes are also active in the woods, fields or meadows at any time of day if there is sufficient foliage. Covering all parts of the body is a partial solution. In hot humid weather, it could cause another problem – heat stress. Therefore a workplace program must take into consideration all likely outcomes of their decision.
If you are a worker, or employ workers who might be at risk of being bitten by a mosquito, ensure you have performed an assessment of the risk then develop or review your WNV Policy and Program. If you have a Joint Health and Safety Committee, it would be wise to involve them in the process from the beginning.
Date your policy, and have the highest level person in the organization sign off. Ensure all workers are informed of the policy and program and are trained in the steps being taken to protect them from West Nile Virus.
When the first warm days of summer arrive, if you are like most Canadians, you race to your garage, dust the cob webs off the barbecue, grab a six pack and hurry outside to enjoy the warm weather. For many others, summer can be a time of anxiety. Instead of going into air conditioned offices, they’re dreading the thought of the oven like heat they will be spending their eight hour working day in. Similar thoughts are on the mind of workers – even in the winter.
Bakers, foundry workers, laundry clerks, commercial kitchen and fast food workers and others who toil in environments where heat, often combined with humidity, can become deadly, know only too well what hell feels like. Outside workers, exposed to the intense heat of the summer sun, are also negatively affected by heat.
I’ve investigated heat stress in various industries over the years. It was never an easy visit to walk into a workplace where workers are sweating, feeling dizzy or faint, and the temperature reads well over what the human body can endure.
I recall one instance where a woman called the Ministry of Labour (MOL) complaining of heat in a workplace. When I attended, I found a young summer student working alone in an ice cream parlour. The air conditioner had broken down days previously. The temperature in the store measured over 95 degrees Fahrenheit. There were no fans, and no way to cool the workplace. It seemed ironic that the freezers holding the ice cream were all in perfect working order while the young worker said she was “melting”.
Heat Stress is a serious, and often life threatening physical reaction to heat beyond what the human body is capable of handling. In 2011 a baker in Barrie, Kim Douglas Warner,died of heat stress when the bakery reached approximately 49 degrees Celsius. His core body temperature was measured at 42 degrees. The workplace was later fined $215,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. In today’s legislative climate the employer could be facing a jail sentence.
If you don’t know much about heat stress or want additional information on how to protect yourself or your workers, there are a multitude of web sites that cover the subject in detail: The Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc. (OHCOW) has developed a resource for protecting workers from heat stress; the Ministry of Labour’s site also has resources, or just goggle heat stress; there are hundreds of sites where you can find information.
In Ontario, every workplace must have a health and safety policy. To implement that policy, employers need a program that contains all the elements required for that particular workplace. Where heat is or could become a health and safety issue, the employer must have a heat stress program.
The type of program needed for each workplace is different. Is it a factory, a mine, a greenhouse, a coffee shop, a farm, a fast food outlet, or an office on the 12th floor where the air con might go out during an electrical shortage?
Each workplace requires their own policy and program that outlines procedures and measures the employer has taken to protect workers from heat stress.
As an Inspector during a visit, I would expect to see the policy, ensure that all workers were aware of and trained in the policy and understood the procedures in place to safeguard their health and safety. I would review the measures and procedures: are there allowances for leaving the area and going to a cooling down station? Is water freely available? What clothing are they required to wear? Are there adequate fans, if needed? Is the HVAC system working properly?
As a part of any inspection I would look at and often test equipment such as water fountains, HVAC systems, protective clothing, and temperature gauges, to ensure they were maintained in good working condition. Orders to an employer were rarely welcome but were often issued. It meant someone was not doing their job, didn’t know any better, or just didn’t give a dam about workers.
Often, I would find other issues while performing the inspection. At one golf course I attended, after receiving a complaint about heat, I noticed a picnic table near a pleasant little river under the shade of a lovely oak stand. Perfect place for lunch I thought, until I saw a hose from the river pumping water onto the lawns. Mist from the water was settling onto the picnic table as well as on the sandwiches the workers were eating while on their break.
The water was sent to be tested. It came back as laden with E.coli, a potentially harmful or fatal bacterium. You never know what the Inspector will find when she comes a-calling.
So now, with the summer sun blazing down, ensure that your workplace is safe, that policies and measures and procedures are in place, and that all workers can go home at the end of their shift, pull out the barbecue and settle down to relax for their hard earned rest.
I remember quite clearly a number of investigations I performed during my years at the Ministry of Labour (MOL). The incidents that bothered me the most were those involving young workers. One young girl – a summer student, was injured when the metal plate she lifted to add chemicals to the wading pool fell onto her hand and crushed it.
Another investigation involved a young man who lost an eye and suffered a shattered face while assisting his supervisor to perform a task. The supervisor, a contractor, picked up an angle grinder with a speed of 12,000 RPM and began to smooth the rough edge on a piece of granite. The grinding wheel had a maximum speed of 7,700 RPM and hence exploded sending chunks of shrapnel into the space where the young worker was standing.
Neither worker had received training. Neither worker could have known of the danger of the work they were asked to perform.
The young female pool attendant was not advised of the danger of lifting by hand the heavy metal plate, nor was there a piece of equipment to prevent the plate from slamming shut. In the second case, the employer had not bothered to read the safe operating instructions of the angle grinder and ensuring the contractor knew how to use the angle grinder before using it. As well, the guard was still in the box along with the SOP.
The MOL frequently has ‘blitzes’ where Inspectors are sent out into the field to perform new and young workers inspections. Unfortunately, with the small number of Inspectors compared to the thousands of workplaces in Ontario, not all workplaces can be inspected proactively. It’s usually only after an event that the Inspector shows up.
Lack of training is a recurrent underlying cause of accidents that Inspectors investigate. Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act training means providing information, instruction as well as supervision to a worker. Most summer students are provided with little if any safety information or supervision. They may be told how to serve a burger, how to work the cash, how to greet customers, where to place the boxes, how fast to work, or how much chlorine to add to the swimming pool. It’s just not good enough.
When working with a slicer in a deli, the worker needs to ensure there is a guard, and that they have been provided with training on the safe way to use it. Lock out is imperative if they are asked to clean it.
All workers must receive Workplace Hazardous Materials Information (WHMIS) training if they work or near chemicals. And if truth be known, most WHMIS training is inadequate. It’s all well and good to be able to read labels, but how about training in the chemicals workers are actually using? Are they poisons? Are they toxins? Are they Explosives? What safety measures are in place? Is there adequate ventilation in the workplace? What protective equipment or respirator should they wear if any?
More than one worker has been critically or fatally injured when asked to pull something out of a compactor that is blocked. No worker should ever operate or attempt to clean a compactor or baler without training and without a lock out procedure in effect.
In retail as well as in health care, a major cause of accidents are slip, trip and fall hazards. The front area of many large shiny pharmacies or grocery stores that customers see is clean and neat. But, in the back room, out of sight of the paying customers it’s often a nightmare. Sheets of paper or plastic are strewn on floors. Boxes block aisles, workers are often forced to climb over discarded objects or products due to lack of space. Grease and water on restaurant floors lead to hundreds of slip and fall incidents.
Ask if the worker will be asked to place or remove objects: climbing and carrying objects on ladders is a no no. No worker should climb a ladder while removing or placing objects. Both hands are needed to carry most objects. Workers should always remember to use “two hands, one foot, or Two feet, one hand”. Ladders are for gaining access to height, platform ladders are used for work.
If you are a parent of a teen who has a summer job, ask what the job entails. Even though employers are responsible under the ACT, you might want to assume that they won’t tell your child how to stay safe. When your child comes home all excited that they landed their summer job – ask – “what tasks will you perform and what safety training will you receive before you start your job?”
Make sure your summer student is safe and goes home at the end of the day to enjoy the lovely weather with friends and family.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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.
MEASURES AND PROCEDURES
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.
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 workercan 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.