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.