Worksites in the Canadian province of Ontario promise to be less hazardous to employees thanks to new legislation that puts more protections against on-the-job violence and harassment in place.

According to Statistics Canada, a department of the Canadian federal government, in 2004 alone, nearly one-fifth of the country’s violent acts – 356,000 incidents – occurred at the workplace.

Canada, unlike the United States, does not have a federally-mandated occupational safety and health law. Instead, each province is responsible for enacting its own workplace health and safety regulations. While all provincial health and safety acts contain “general duty clauses” requiring employers to take steps to protect the health and safety of their workers, the Ontario legislature, in December, added teeth to its Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Ontario joins the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan – that have already enacted similar amendments – by requiring employers to establish policies that specifically shield employees from physical and verbal abuse. This includes provisions pertaining to domestic violence that enters into the workplace and alerting employees to a colleague’s history of perpetrating violence.

Workplace violence, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), includes:

  • Threatening behavior – such as shaking fists, destroying property or throwing objects
  • Verbal or written threats – any expression of an intent to inflict harm
  • Harassment – any behavior that demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, alarms or verbally abuses
  • Verbal abuse – swearing, insults or condescending language
  • Physical attacks – hitting, shoving, pushing or kicking

The Occupational Health and Safety Act Amendment (Violence and Harassment in the Workplace) of 2009, which goes into effect this summer, requires employers with more than five employees to implement the following:

  • A framework that includes policies and programs to help prevent workplace violence and harassment
  • Reasonable precautions to protect an employee from domestic violence in the workplace
  • Provisions for workers to remove themselves from harmful situations if they have reason to believe that they are at risk of imminent danger due to workplace violence

As any worksite has the potential to become a scene of violence and every employee is a potential victim, measures should be taken to lessen the likelihood. These include:

  • Respond promptly to immediate dangers and threats to employees and the workplace.
  • Take threats and threatening behavior seriously; employees must feel safe when coming to a supervisor about a possible safety issue.
  • Maintain confidentiality; investigations of workplace violence should not be discussed with employees who do not need to be involved.
  • Have a no tolerance policy; never condone or forgive a violent matter of any kind.

The LHSFNA offers a new workplace safety program that assists in the prevention and management of workplace violence. It can be ordered through LHSFNA’s online publications catalogue or by contacting the Canadian Tri-Fund at 416-245-9520.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]