It’s time to End Workplace Violence.
Have you been HUMILIATED? SWORN AT? SPAT ON? HIT? at work?
Do any of these actions sound familiar to you? Then you have been exposed to workplace violence.
The BCFED believes that violence is not part of our jobs, but sadly this is not the experience of most workers. An alarmingly large number of workers in BC are exposed to workplace violence on an ongoing basis.
BC’s Occupational Health & Safety Regulation (OHSR) clearly outlines the steps employers must take to prevent violence in the workplace. Why are we allowing this to continue to happen in our workplaces? Why are we not doing a better job at prevention?
The BCFED Occupational Health and Safety Committee (OHS Committee) is determined to find the answers to these questions and demand an end to workplace violence.
Workplace Violence – Do YOU know what it means?
Workplace violence is much more than physical assaults.
The BCFED OHS Committee has adopted a broad definition of violence:
"Any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated, bullied, harassed, or assaulted in his or her employment, including actions resulting from domestic violence in the workplace."
The following are a few examples of this behaviour:
• Threatening behaviour- such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects.
• Verbal or written threats - any expression of intent to inflict harm.
• Harassment - any behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or abuses a person and that is known or would be expected to be unwelcome. This includes words, gestures, intimidation, bullying, cyber-bullying, or other inappropriate activities.
• Verbal abuse - swearing, insults or condescending language.
• Physical attacks - hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking.
Where does it happen?
What do we mean when we say “workplace”? Work-related violence can happen in the traditional workplace, but it can also happen at off-site work-related functions and events (conferences, conventions, social events, etc.), and in clients’ homes, away from work via technology (telephone, email, social media, etc.). For transportation workers, the violence typically occurs in or around their “workplace” vehicle – bus, taxi, airplane, ferry, etc.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety website provides a thorough examination of the risk factors.
Certain work factors, processes, and interactions can put people at increased risk from workplace violence. Examples include:
• working with the public;
• handling money, valuables or prescription drugs, e.g., cashiers, pharmacists;
• carrying out inspection or enforcement duties, e.g., government employees;
• providing service, care, advice or education, e.g., health care staff, teachers, bus drivers;
• working with unstable or volatile persons, e.g., social services, or criminal justice system employees;
• working in premises where alcohol is served, e.g., food and beverage staff;
• working alone, in small numbers, e.g., store clerks, real estate agents, taxi drivers, or in isolated or low traffic areas, e.g., washrooms, storage areas, utility rooms;
• working in community-based settings, e.g., nurses, social workers and other home visitors;
• having a mobile workplace, e.g., taxicab, bus, ferry, SkyTrain, plane;
• working during periods of intense organizational change, e.g., strikes, downsizing; and
• working under stressful conditions, e.g., high production demands.
Risk of violence may be greater at certain times of the day, night or year; for example:
• late hours of the night or early hours of the morning;
• tax return season;
• overdue utility bill cut-off dates;
• during the holidays;
• pay days or social assistance pay days;
• report cards or parent interviews; and
• performance appraisals.
Risk of violence may increase depending on the geographic location of the workplace; for example:
• near buildings or businesses that are at risk of violent crime, e.g., bars, banks; and
• in areas isolated from other buildings or structures.
Who is most at risk?
Although all workplaces are at risk for violence, there are particular occupations which are at high risk for violence:
• health care employees;
• correctional officers;
• social services employees;
• municipal/provincial government services;
• public works employees;
• transportation workers;
• retail employees; and
• tourism and hospitality.
Sections 4.28 – 4.31 of the OHSR provide comprehensive prevention of workplace violence requirements that the employer must comply with, and these include the following:
• perform a risk assessment;
• establish procedures, polices and work environment arrangements to eliminate, or if not possible, minimize, the risk of violence to workers;
• instruct workers:
o about the nature and extent of the risk of violence;
o about the history of violent behaviour of anyone they may be exposed to during their work;
o how to recognize violence;
o about the policies, procedures and work environment arrangements in place to eliminate or minimize workplace violence;
o how to respond to incidents and how to get help;
o about the procedures for reporting, investigating and documenting incidents; and
o to consult a physician if the worker reports an injury or adverse symptom as a result of being exposed to workplace violence.
What should you do if you encounter workplace violence?
1. Get help!
Every situation has its own unique response requirements, some requiring immediate assistance – below are a few tips:
• Know your workplace procedures.
Your employer must have procedures in place for seeking assistance and responding to incidents. Your employer must educate you about these procedures. Ask to see them.
• Practice incident response in your workplace.
The old adage “practice makes perfect” is true. Testing and practicing your workplace violence incident response procedures helps to reinforce these procedures so that workers know what to do.
• Do NOT engage.
Unless you have specialized training, it can be dangerous to attempt to de-escalate the situation.
• Get out – go to a safe place.
If you can do so safely, remove yourself from the situation.
• Call for help.
You may have been provided with numbers to phone, an emergency alert button, an emergency code to page, or something similar. Whatever the case, make sure that you understand what is supposed to happen when you implement this action. For example, does the emergency alert button contact a supervisor, security guard, or the police? What is the expected response time?
• Call 911
If you feel your life is at risk, or the above options are not adequate for the situation, do not hesitate to also call 911.
2. Report to your employer
Your employer must have procedures in place for reporting incidents and must instruct the workers about these. Your employer must investigate incidents of violence, bullying and harassment.
3. Report to your Joint Health and Safety Committee
Your workplace Joint Health and Safety Committee is obligated to participate in investigations of workplace violence and make recommendations to the employer on how to improve the violence prevention program. If you are in a workplace with less than 20 workers, be sure to report to your worker health and safety representative.
4. Report to your Union
If you are a unionized worker, it is important for your union to know about incidents of violence in your workplace.
5. Report to the WCB
If you have been injured – physically or psychologically – as a result of the workplace incident, it is important to report the WCB as soon as possible.
6. Report to your doctor
It is important to report incidents of violence to your doctor, as these incidents may have a cumulative effect. If you have suffered an adverse action or have been injured – physically or psychologically – as a result of the workplace incident, it is important to report to your doctor as soon as possible. If you have suffered a psychological injury as a result, you must also see a psychiatrist for a diagnosis in order to file a claim for compensation.
Why does the BCFED want to update the workplace violence regulations?
The existing regulations in BC’s OHSR are out of date and lack the detail required to assist employers to develop and implement an effective prevention of violence program in the workplace.
In addition, the definition of “violence” is too narrow. Section 4.27 of the OHSR defines violence as follows:
"violence" means the attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that he or she is at risk of injury."
The BCFED is working to have this definition expanded to ensure that violence, bullying and harassment, and domestic violence in the workplace are all covered under the existing Violence in the Workplace regulations in the OHSR.
Further, the OHSR currently separates violence that is caused by a co-worker under Section 4.24 – Workplace Conduct, of the OHSR. The BCFED’s proposed regulatory amendments will ensure that violence caused by any person to a worker falls under one regulation, thus simplifying and clarifying the intent of Section 4.24.
Do you want to learn how to prevent violence in your workplace?
The BCFED Health & Safety Centre offers various workplace health and safety courses, including Prevention of Violence in the Workplace. These courses qualify for the annual eight-hour joint health and safety committee education requirements.
Workers Compensation Board: Violence Prevention
Workers Compensation Board: Bullying and Harassment
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Workplace Violence
Assaults on Bus Drivers: The Human Cost, Unifor Local 111