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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org