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In recent years, a number of high-profile legal cases and the #MeToo movement have shone the spotlight on workplace violence and harassment. Despite the media attention and ongoing public dialogue, the problem persists in Canadian workplaces. A recent national study (2022) conducted by the University of Western Ontario and the Canadian Labour Congress sought to gain a deeper understanding of violence and harassment in Canadian workplaces. In the two years before the survey, 71% of study respondents had experienced at least one form of harassment or abuse at work.
How can employers create a culture of respect where every employee feels safe and supported in addressing unwanted behaviour? A robust, clearly communicated prevention program is a good place to start. The program should include a written policy that outlines what are inappropriate and unacceptable behaviours, what to do when incidents occur, to whom employees can report incidents, and the procedure that will be followed when an incident is reported.
Although the exact content and implementation strategies will vary depending on your jurisdiction and the nature of your workplace, there are many elements common in harassment and violence prevention programs.
A clear definition
Because violence and harassment take many forms, it’s important to clearly define what constitutes unacceptable behaviour. Any action that is reasonably expected to be unwelcome on the basis that it demeans, embarrasses, humiliates, annoys, or scares someone is harassing behaviour. Behaviour that becomes aggressive or physical and involves unwanted contact is considered violence. Your definition should include a wide range of examples of forms that violence and harassment can take.
Conduct a workplace assessment to determine which hazards are present and the risk they represent, starting with an inspection of the workplace. Focus on the tasks being done, the design and layout, and your administrative and work practices. Consider internal factors such as culture, conditions, activities, and organizational structure. External factors include location, clients, customers, and family violence. Also, consider that incidents do not always occur in the physical workplace (e.g., at conferences, during phone or video calls, etc.)
Maintaining good psychological health and safety is also important. What kind of measures are in place to support employees’ mental health? How much control does an individual have over their work? Are deadlines and workloads manageable?
It’s good practice to conduct a review of any previous incidents of violence in the workplace, while always maintaining the confidentiality of any individuals. Consult existing incident reports, first aid records, and health and safety committee records. Determine whether your workplace has any risk factors. You might also request information from any organizations or industry associations you’re associated with, the union (if present), or from the workers' compensation board, and occupational health and safety regulators.
Once you’ve organized and reviewed the information you have collected, look for trends and identify the occupations and locations that you believe are most at risk. Record the results of your assessment and use this document to develop a prevention program with specific steps for reducing the risk of harassment and violence within your workplace.
A written policy
A written policy that outlines reporting and responding mechanisms is the cornerstone of an organization’s commitment to preventing violence and harassment. It should be developed by management and employee representatives, including the health and safety committee and the union (if present) and should apply to management, employees, and anyone who has a relationship with the organization. Make sure it is easily accessible to everyone in your organization.
Precisely state the consequences of making harassing statements or committing violent acts. Encourage reporting of all incidents that are experienced or witnessed by outlining a confidential process workers can follow to report incidents without fear of reprisals. Outline the procedures for resolving or investigating incidents. Determine how information about potential risks will be communicated to employees while maintaining confidentiality to the parties involved.
A written policy shows that management is committed to addressing and preventing incidents involving violence, harassment, and other unacceptable behaviour. Another way to demonstrate commitment is to offer continuing support to employees who have experienced violence or harassment in the workplace, which can be delivered through a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or coordinated with local providers.
It's also important to measure whether your prevention program is effectively reducing instances of violence and harassment. Make a commitment to monitor and review the policy at regular intervals.
Training and education
Since everyone has a role to play in preventing harassment and violence, training and education should be provided that is specific to the different levels of personnel within your organization. Learning outcomes should include understanding what constitutes workplace harassment and violence, why it is such an important issue, and the risk of experiencing harassment and violence relative to the work they do. They should be able to identify occurrences and know the steps to take if they are involved in or witness an incident.
Everyone has the right to a workplace free from violence and harassment. Creating a robust prevention policy is a great start but be sure to respond to any reports thoughtfully and thoroughly, and continuously update your program and policy as necessary.
Tips and Tools
Workers across different industries can be exposed to serious harm from hazardous energy. While some energy sources involved with machinery, equipment and processes are obvious, such as electricity, others may be hidden, like tension in a tightly wound spring or air pressure in a system. Lockout/tagout is typically required during maintenance and repair work, when removing or installing new equipment, and for other situations where workers can be injured from hazardous energy. Preventing the release of uncontrolled energy by using a lockout/tag out program is one of the most effective ways to help keep workers safe.
Lockout/tag out involves putting a system in a zero-energy state by disconnecting and isolating it from its energy source, removing any stored energy, placing a locking device to secure it in safe position and adding a tag to display important lockout information. Verifying the system is properly isolated and de-energized is also important.
Lockout/tag out processes involve more than putting a lock on a switch. They include step-by-step processes that involve communication, coordination, and training. While an organization should have one overall lockout program, each unique machine or piece of equipment should include a detailed procedure that describes the steps to control the hazardous energy.
The written lockout procedure should specify:
It is important that workers are trained on these procedures, and that the specific requirements for lockout/tagout and hazardous energy control for your jurisdiction are followed.
For more detailed information on lockout procedures, access the following CCOHS resources.
Increase your understanding of the factors that influence psychological health and safety in the workplace with a free online course developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada
Newly refreshed, Being a Mindful Employee: An Orientation to Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace helps employees understand the 13 psychosocial workplace factors from the National Standard of Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and what they can do to help themselves and others in the workplace.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include changes to the Environment Act in Manitoba, Nova Scotia’s Subsurface Energy Storage Act Occupational Health and Safety Act, and extensive amendments to New Brunswick’s occupational health and safety legislation to reduce workplace illnesses and injuries.
Environment Act: S.M. 2022, c. 40 makes amendments to various sections so that the prohibition on the application of certain pesticides to lawns is removed and the sale of those pesticides is no longer subject to provincial regulations. The list of premises where the use of those pesticides is prohibited is expanded to include municipal playgrounds, picnic areas, dog parks and provincial parks.
Subsurface Energy Storage Act (formerly the Underground Hydrocarbons Storage Act): S.N.S. 2022, c. 55 revises the title of this Act; replaces “hydrocarbon” with “subsurface energy,” and the various related terms where they appear throughout; adds new clauses in several sections; and repeals and replaces Section 8 Application.
General Regulation (Occupational Health and Safety Act): New Brunswick made extensive amendments to its occupational health and safety legislation to reduce workplace illnesses and injuries. N.B. Reg. 2022-76 amends section 49.1 of the regulation to update several CSA Standards to reference the most recent version. N.B. Reg. 2022-79 is in force and amendments have been made throughout, including updating the referenced standards. Section 212.1 concerning critical lifts, section 279.1 (Hot Tapping) and sections 262.01- 262.092 concerning confined spaces have been added to the regulation. Sections 287.1 (Electrical Equipment) - 287.4 have been amended, and section 287.41 (Code of Practice) and Part XX.1 (Laboratory Safety) have been added to the regulation.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
If you’re a student enrolled in an occupational health and safety course or program at an accredited Canadian college or university, you still have time to apply for the Dick Martin Scholarship award.
Two scholarships worth $3,000 each will be awarded to one university student and one college student pursuing their education in a field related to occupational health and safety. CCOHS will also award $500 to each of the winning students’ academic institutions.
To apply, students need to complete an online application, submit a cover letter outlining their aspirations of obtaining a career in the health and safety industry, and write a 1,000-to-1,200-word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety:
Applications are open until 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2023. Scholarship rules and essay criteria are available on the CCOHS website.
Explore the changing world of work at CCOHS Forum, returning September 26-27, 2023, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
There is no other health and safety event like this in Canada. Make a plan to join us for this two-day national event that will bring together leaders, change makers, and subject experts representing government, labour, and workplaces, to share their knowledge and experience around current and emerging health and safety issues.
Save the date:
The Changing World of Work
Sept 26-27, 2023
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Watch for registration and program details coming soon.
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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.
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