How to Create a Safe Workplace: 3 Best Practices
I read a recent article about the importance of workplace violence prevention and the stiff penalties levied for failing to address worker safety. The article discussed a May 2014 incident at a youth mental health centre in Oakville: a youth from the centre assaulted two staff members, resulting in both physical and psychological injuries. The centre was fined $125,000.00 for failing to provide the necessary information, instruction and supervision to protect the employees from workplace violence.
As an employer, you have a legal obligation to ensure the safety of your workers (i.e. employees, contractors, volunteers etc.) under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”). The OHSA’s workplace violence provisions, which were rolled-out under ‘Bill 168,’ require employers to:
- prepare and review a policy on workplace violence;
- develop, implement, and maintain a program that supports the violence prevention policy;
- provide appropriate information and instruction to workers on the content of the violence prevention policy and program;
- provide workers with information (which may include personal information) about a workplace actor with a history of violent behaviour (where there is a threat or risk of workplace violence); and
- take every reasonable precaution to protect workers from domestic violence that may occur in the workplace and could expose a worker to physical injury.
What can you do to protect your workers from workplace violence? Consider these 3 best practices to help you comply with the OHSA’s workplace violence provisions:
- Include workplace violence and harassment prevention training in your induction program, or as a town-hall, all-hands meeting, or lunch & learn. Under the OHSA, workers have a reciprocal legal obligation to report incidents of violence and refrain from behaviour that may constitute workplace violence. By hosting a session, which addresses your violence prevention policy and program, workers will better understand how to identify and report actual or potential threats of violence, as well as understand their obligations to maintain a safe working environment.
- Create a responsive violence reporting program. Workers may not report acts of violence for fear of reprisal from their employer or from the person engaging in the violent behaviour. You can address this by creating a sensitive reporting system, which workers can trust and feel safe. Consider complaint drop boxes and other anonymous ways workers can make complaints to the health & safety committee or human resources. In my opinion, the possibility of unaddressed violence in the workplace far outweighs the threat of mischief from an anonymous complaint. Furthermore, a thorough and unbiased workplace violence investigation can properly address any unsubstantiated violence claims.
- Regularly review your violence prevention policy and program. As part of your human resource compliance audit, critically review your workplace violence prevention program and policy. Ensure that your organization is continuously assessing the risks of violence from all possible sources (i.e. customers, clients, employers, supervisors, workers, strangers and domestic/intimate partners) and find ways to obtain feedback about the efficacy of the program from your workers (e.g. through annual surveys, exit interviews etc.).