The Ministry of Labour (MOL) has announced that inspectors will be conducting safety inspection blitzes on workplace violence in February/March of this year, focusing on health care sector workplaces, which include hospitals, psychiatric hospitals and psychiatric facilities, residential group homes and long-term care homes.
If an MOL inspector observes a violation of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) or its regulations during a safety inspection, the inspector may issue an order for compliance. The MOL may prosecute any person for violating OHSA or its regulations, or for failing to comply with an order of an inspector. If convicted of an offence under OHSA or its regulations, an individual can be fined up to $25,000 and/or imprisoned for up to 12 months, and a corporation can be fined up to $500,000.
In order to demonstrate your organization’s compliance with workplace violence and harassment requirements under OHSA, your organization should be prepared to address the following in an MOL safety inspection:
- Workplace Violence and Harassment Policies. Employers are required to develop policies regarding violence and harassment in the workplace, and to post these policies in a conspicuous place in the workplace. These policies must be reviewed at least annually.
- Workplace Violence and Harassment Programs. All employers are required to develop programs to address violence and harassment in the workplace. Health care and residential facilities also have a general duty under Ontario Regulation 67/93 to establish measures and procedures for the health and safety of workers, and to document these measures and procedures in writing.
- Risk Assessment for Workplace Violence. Employers are required to perform a risk assessment for violence in the workplace. If necessary, the policies and procedures mentioned above should be amended to address and minimize such risks.
Training Information and Instruction on Workplace Violence and Harassment. Employers have a general obligation to provide information, instruction and supervision to workers to protect their health and safety. They also have a specific obligation to provide information and instruction on the content of their workplace violence and harassment policies and programs, including complaint and investigation processes. At a minimum, workers should:
- Know how to summon immediate assistance;
- Know how to report incidents of workplace violence/harassment to the employer or supervisor;
- Know how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents, threats or complaints;
- Know, understand and be able to carry out the measures and procedures that are in place to protect them from workplace violence; and
- Be able to carry out any other procedures that are part of the program.
Some employees, such as supervisors, may need additional information or instruction regarding their responsibilities.
It is important to keep a record of attendance for all training sessions, and to ask questions to be sure that workers have paid attention. Remedial instruction should be provided if necessary. During a safety inspection, an MOL inspector may question workers directly to test their knowledge regarding your organization’s workplace violence and harassment procedures. We also recommend that your organization keep records of the information and instruction provided to workers, in order to establish that you took reasonable steps to train and instruct your workers.
- Notice of Incidents of Workplace Violence Causing Injury. Under s. 52 of OHSA, if a person is disabled from performing his or her usual work or requires medical attention because of an incident of workplace violence at a workplace, but no person dies or is critically injured because of that occurrence, the employer shall give written notice to the committee, the health and safety representative and the trade union, if any. If required by an inspector, the employer shall also give written notice to the Director. The notice must be given within four days of the occurrence, and contain certain prescribed information and particulars.
- Domestic Violence. Employers are required to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances to protect workers from domestic violence that may occur in the workplace, and workers should be made aware of these protections.
- Limits on Disclosure of Personal Information. Under OHSA, employers may be required to disclose information about a person with a history of violent behaviour in order to protect workers from physical injury, while respecting privacy as much as possible. Only personal information necessary to protect the worker from physical injury should be disclosed, and there may be other laws that limit the release of personal or medical information, such as the Ontario Personal Health Information Protection Act, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code. In cases where an employer’s obligations under OHSA may conflict with privacy or human rights legislation, we recommend that you seek legal guidance before disclosing any personal information.
As a reminder, OHSA also requires employers to develop and implement a health and safety program and policy, and to post copies of these policies and the OHSA in the workplace.