Putting an End to Workplace Bullying
Not all workplace hazards come from machines or dangerous substances. In some circumstances, the very people we work with can cause harm and make us ill. When we are subjected repeatedly to treatment or behaviours that are intended to humiliate, demoralize or undermine our credibility - we are being bullied.
Bullying can include spreading malicious gossip or lies; excluding or ignoring someone socially; intimidating; physically abusing or threatening abuse; yelling or using profanity; making jokes that are obviously offensive; establishing impossible deadlines; assigning unrealistic workloads, undermining or deliberately impeding a person's work; and criticizing habits, attitudes or private life. These are just a few examples and not by any means a complete list.
How is bullying harmful?
Bullying is becoming more widely recognized as a serious workplace problem that can cause undue stress among workers. Bullying does more than hurt someone's feelings. A recent American survey on workplace bullying, conducted in 2007 by the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that bullying caused stress-related health problems in 45% of people who were bullied. Overall 37% of American workers had been bullied at work.
The study also found that 77% of victims eventually lose their jobs. 40% of the participants who said the bullying eventually stopped, reported that they had made it stop by voluntarily leaving the company.
A host of health problems have been associated with workplace bullying. These include stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks, depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
The workplace suffers, too. Bullying affects the overall health of an organization and can cause an increase in stress-related absenteeism and turnover. With the loss of employees comes a loss of accumulated wisdom and experience as well as higher costs for employee assistance programs (EAPs) and recruitment. When morale is down, employees are less productive and the company is less profitable.
Who are these bullies?
Bullies can be anyone in your workplace. However according to the WBI study, 72% of the bullies were bosses. The most frequently bullied targets were non-supervisory employees, and women (in 57% of cases).
What can be done about it?
Victims of bullying should act quickly by firmly telling the person that the behaviour is unacceptable and asking for it to stop. It would also be wise to ask a trusted supervisor, manager and/or union member to be present. The bullied person should document everything by keeping a journal of daily occurrences and any letters, memos, e-mails and other correspondence from the bully. This information is important because bullying is characterized not only by the nature of incidents, but by the number, frequency and pattern of the behaviour.
If you are being bullied, do not retaliate. It's important to make it clear who is the perpetrator (not you!). Make sure to report the harassment to the appropriate manager or supervisor or, if necessary, to the next level of management.
Under all occupational health and safety law, employers have a general duty to protect employees from hazards that affect their physical safety or mental health. In addition, some jurisdictions have specific regulations that may apply to situations of workplace bullying (e.g. Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Management's commitment is best communicated in a written policy. Since bullying is a form of violence in the workplace, employers should write a comprehensive policy that covers a range of incidents (from bullying and harassment to physical violence).
General tips for the workplace
- Encourage everyone at the workplace to treat one another in a respectful and professional manner.
- Have a workplace policy in place that includes a reporting system.
- Treat all complaints seriously. Try to resolve situations before they get serious or out of control.
- Educate everyone that bullying is a serious matter; what is considered bullying, and whom they can go to for help.
- Train supervisors and managers in how to deal with complaints and potential situations. Encourage them to address situations promptly and confidentially whether or not a formal complaint has been filed.
- Have an impartial third party help with the resolution, if necessary.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) outlines the essentials of a workplace violence prevention program - including bullying - on its OSH Answers site.
Learn about the Violence in the Workplace Prevention Guide from CCOHS
Read the 2007 WBI-Zogby Survey on Workplace Bullying Institute website
Find out more about Violence in the Workplace e-courses from CCOHS
Falling Roof And Fatal Electric
An experienced high voltage worker suffered a fatal electrical shock while performing maintenance and repairs on a 3.8kV primary switchgear in a substation. The local electrical authority had turned off and tagged the two main high voltage infeed supplies. There were two main compartments to the switchgear - one that fed the in-service transformer, and one that fed an out-of-service transformer and that had its fuses removed. The second transformer had been out-of-service for a long time and was assumed to have been disconnected from the secondary buss (physical electrical interface). Workers didn't have access to any up-to-date single-line drawings.
Both contractors on the jobsite verified all potentials as dead. Temporary grounds (those attached between the grounding system and the conductors) were connected to the primary buss and to the system ground in the switchgear associated with the in-service transformer (per rule 119 of the EUSA rulebook, 2004 edition). Workers were following company procedures.
Excessive moisture in the primary fuse compartment was the reason for the repair work. A generator would have to supply the secondary 575 volts to the customer during repairs. The secondary leads were removed at the main transformer and the generator was tied into the secondary from the main 1000 kVA transformer. Someone had made the generator connections after checking the potential and installation of the temporary grounds.
Secondary leads on the out-of-service transformer were still tied into the distribution buss from the building supply room. There was a Tie switch in this room, left by a long past owner of the building. The Tie switch was in the closed (on) position.
This supplied 575 volts to the secondary lines to which the out-of-service transformer was connected. This caused the second transformer to be back-fed, generating 13.8 kV at the pothead conductors in the fuse compartment for the transformer. Without any fuses present, there was no connection to the temporary grounds, allowing the potential to sit on the conductors. A worker who entered this compartment to move some equipment made contact and was killed.
The Ontario Ministry of Labour has issued these recommendations in a hazard alert bulletin:
Verify all potentials before and after a temporary source of power is brought on-line. Apply the temporary grounds to the line and load side of all fuses, even if fuses are NOT present in the primary circuit. This way, any current from the conductors that might be inadvertently energized from an unknown source will be safety carried to ground. Make sure there are up-to-date and legible single-line diagrams. Workers, supervisors and employers must be familiar with clause 25(2)(h) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and accepted industry standards, including the current editions of the Electrical & Utilities Safety Association (EUSA) Rulebook and the Ontario Electrical Safety Code.
Meanwhile, on Prince Edward Island… Two workers were doing construction on a new home when the roof truss above them collapsed. Although the truss system had been braced and was ready for sheathing, the weight of the many piles of sheathing was more than the individual trusses were designed to support. This caused the loaded trusses to roll horizontally until the entire system collapsed and injured the workers.
This incident could have been prevented if the manufacturer's recommendations - not to overload the trusses with construction material - had been followed.
To prevent incidents of this kind, the Workers Compensation Board of PEI recommends that employers make sure workers understand and follow procedures supplied by the truss manufacturer on handling, erecting, positioning, and bracing trusses. According to health and safety law, only a "competent" person - who has the right training, experience and knowledge, must erect trusses. It is up to the employer to make sure trusses are properly braced and will maintain structural capacity and stability.
Read the full alerts:
High Voltage Switchgear Repairs from Ministry of Labour, Ontario
Roof truss collapse from Workers Compensation Board of PEI
Going Solo At Work Can Be Risky Business
Every job has hazards. Being exposed to those hazards without anyone around as backup makes them all the more dangerous. So whether you work in a taxicab, a hospital, a gas bar kiosk or the front desk of an office tower, you must have a plan to ensure you can be safe on the job.
Lone workers in any job need protection. Here's a summary of how to get that protection: First of all, as you would in any work setting, determine what the hazards are. Talk to the employee(s) about the tasks they perform and how to make them safer. Make sure they have the right training.
If possible, find a way to avoid anyone having to work alone. If someone must work alone, establish a procedure whereby the worker regularly checks in with someone from the company. Your workplace should have a formal procedure that allows the worker to get in touch, either visually or verbally. This check-in procedure could, for example, identify one main person to be the contact at the office, plus a backup, and perhaps have that person periodically contact or visit the lone employee. The company also should have an emergency action plan to follow if the lone employee does not check in at the pre-determined time. The plan should consider and be appropriate for both off hours and regular business hours.
If an incident does happen, investigate and report it as soon as possible. Take corrective action to make sure it doesn't happen again. You must also report any near misses involving the lone worker. Analyze what happened and, if necessary, change company policy to make workers safer.
As you assess the hazards at your workplace, consider who is doing the job. You must also factor in how long the person will work alone, what the job entails and where the site is located. Schedule higher risk tasks to be done during normal business hours, or when another worker capable of helping in an emergency is present.
There are laws about protecting people who work alone. Check the requirements in your jurisdiction. Meanwhile, you will find detailed information on the OSH Answers document, "Working Alone." It outlines what to consider in your safety program for people who work alone.
Read the OSH Answers on working alone: http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/hsprograms/workingalone.html
NAOSH Week - Make It A Date!
Finally for most of us the snow has melted, our gardens are showing signs of life, the birds are singing and spring is in the air. And with springtime also comes a very special week that we celebrate every year - North American Occupational Safety and Health Week. That can be a lot to remember so it's more commonly know as NAOSH (pronounced NAY-OSH) Week and it runs this year from May 4-10.
NAOSH Week is a time when we all - employers, employees, the public, and workplace safety and health partners - turn our focus to the health and safety of workers. It is a time to reinforce the importance of preventing injury and illness in the workplace, at home and in the community. The theme this year is Start today! Live it every day! CCOHS and others across the country and continent are hosting events and activities to mark this important week, and encouraging you to get involved and participate!
CCOHS' Webinars Help Spread the Message
As in previous years, CCOHS is celebrating NAOSH Week by producing a series of free, live webinars on current health and safety topics. You can participate individually or as a group in your meeting or boardroom. All you need is a computer with Internet access and a phone. Join us for one or all four -- space is limited so register soon!
Working in Extreme Weather
Date: Monday, May 5, 2008 Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM EST
Presenter: Geoff Coulson, Warning Preparedness Meteorologist,
Participatory Ergonomic Interventions
Date: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM EST
Presenter: Dwayne Van Eerd, Kinesiologist/Health Researcher,
Institute for Work & Health
Mental Health in the Workplace
Date: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM EST
Presenter: Donna Hardaker, Canadian Mental Health Association
Date: Thursday, May 8, 2008 Time: 1:00 - 2:00 PM EST
Presenter: Jan Chappel, Senior Technical Specialist,
Occupational Health and Safety, CCOHS
About NAOSH Week
NAOSH Week is an annual initiative led by the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE) in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) and Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC). NAOSH Week continues to be a truly continent-wide event, celebrated in Canada, along with North American partners in the United States and Mexico.
E-Courses Cover Small Business And Big Noise
Two e-courses just launched by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) deliver practical guidance on important but often complex topics. One addresses the unique health and safety issues affecting small businesses. The other helps people in noisy work settings to prevent hearing loss.
Health & Safety for Small Business was created with the small business operator in mind. Besides the everyday task of running a business, making sure workers are safe presents a host of other responsibilities. This can be more of a challenge for owners of small businesses, who might lack the specialized knowledge to identify workplace hazards and have limited resources. This e-course from CCOHS makes it easier by showing small business operators how to develop and implement a successful health and safety program.
Participants will learn practical ways to identify hazards and manage risks and receive step-by-step guidelines for creating a health and safety program, including emergency planning and hazard management. The experts at CCOHS have made sure essential health and safety information is covered: the business case for health and safety, legal responsibilities for workplace health and safety, WHMIS, occupational hygiene, fire protection, ergonomics, workplace inspections, accident investigations, and more.
To make sure they retain this important information, participants can reinforce what they've learned by reading the examples and case studies, and taking the quizzes provided.
The Preventing Hearing Loss from Workplace Noise e-course is an introduction to noise control, but focuses on how to prevent hearing loss by reducing or eliminating noise exposure. It is geared to anyone working in a potentially noisy setting - managers, supervisors, workers, health & safety staff and committee members, as well as human resources and disability management personnel.
In about an hour, course participants will learn how noise can damage hearing, what constitutes hazardous noise, how to develop a hearing loss prevention program, which hearing protectors are appropriate for which settings and how to use them, as well as specific ways to control workplace noise exposure. The course also features case studies, quizzes, an "ask a question" option and a final exam.
All e-courses by CCOHS are available in English and French. They are developed by subject specialists and reviewed by labour, employer and government representatives.
The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2009, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety