Violence: It’s not part of the job!

Violence, which is prevalent in every sphere of social life, in all races and cultures, is defined as any physical, emotional, or sexual behaviour that harms individuals physically and/or emotionally. Workplace Violence is the attempted or actual exercise of physical force against anyone, or any threatening statement or behaviour that gives a person reason to believe that physical force will be used against them. It is an incident where the worker is abused physically or assaulted by a person or people during situations related to their work.  Examples of threats of violence or acts of violence include physical and sexual assault, property damage and vandalism, swearing and verbal abuse and threats or intimidation.

Workplace violence has many negative effects. it is important to understand workplace violence so we can effectively prevent violence and protect workers. Workplace violence has been associated with reduced productivity, increased turnover, absenteeism, counselling costs, decreased staff morale, and reduced quality of life. The victims may have difficulty sleeping, poor job performance, declining morale, and chronic pain. There may be psychological and emotional effects include fear of recurrent assault and feelings of helplessness, irritability, and sadness, which have a difficulty returning to work.  Seeking support from a counselling service or your workplace’s Employee Assistance Program would be one of the ways to help.

A new report recently released by the Canadian Labour Congress provides the initial results of a national survey on how workers are experiencing workplace harassment and violence. The results are very concerning. All workers are not experiencing harassment and violence the same.

  • 7 in 10 workers have experienced harassment and violence at work
  • Nearly 1 in 2 workers have experienced sexual harassment and violence in the last two years
  • Women, trans, non-binary, and gender-diverse workers are experiencing higher rates of harassment and violence
  • Indigenous survey respondents experienced significantly higher rates of harassment and violence (79%) and sexual harassment and violence (47.8%).
  • Workers with a disability experienced significantly higher rates of harassment and violence.

The survey found that third party violence from patients, customers, and clients, is happening at a high rate, which means we need to do more to protect workers who work with the public. This important finding will help workplaces create targeted prevention plans to keep workers safer.  Violent behaviour is a source of concern to workers in healthcare, social services, public services, school, public transit/taxi, retails, and corrections.  Violence should not be part of the job!

Employers in Manitoba are legally responsible for addressing violence in the workplace. Their responsibilities are outlined in the Workplace Safety and Health Regulation on Violence in the Workplace (Part 11). It defines how an employer must assess the risk of violence in the workplace, what to include in a prevention policy and how to investigate a violent incident.​

Creating an effective workplace violence prevention program is necessary to keep workers safe in the workplace. Management commitment and employee participation are key elements in this process! Management commitment, which includes the endorsement and involvement of senior management, will provide the motivation and resources necessary for a successful initiative. Including all levels of employees in the process and soliciting employee feedback allows workers to share their broad range of experience and skills which in turn provides different perspectives and viewpoints to identify workplace violence hazards and mitigate risks.

Conducting a risk assessment to evaluate workplace violence is a vital step which needs to be included in a comprehensive workplace violence prevention plan. A risk assessment for violence includes an inspection of the workplace to identify existing or potential hazards that may lead to incidents of workplace violence. This includes an analysis of the physical environment and hazards specific to particular jobs and shifts, etc. Once hazards are identified in the workplace, the employer must identify and implement appropriate controls to eliminate or reduce the hazard. One example of such a control might be the use of a buddy system when personal safety may be at risk. Another example includes hiring extra workers to reduce isolation and ensure that employees do not work alone.

Other ways employers can make the workplace safer include providing escape routes for employees, improve lighting, installing panic buttons and personal security alarms. Changes in work practices and administrative procedures such as a visitor sign-in process or a requirement for workers to contact their supervisor after working off site are additional strategies that will contribute to workplace safety.

Health and safety training specific to preventing violence in the workplace should be provided regularly for all levels of the organization upon hire. Suggested topics for education might include a review of the workplace violence prevention plan, how to perform a workplace risk assessment for violence, reports workplace violence, ways to de-escalate potentially violent situations, and the location and use of safety devices such as alarm systems and panic buttons.  It is also important that all workers understand they have a right to be informed about the nature and extent of the risk of violence they may encounter in the workplace.

NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) offers a video that discusses practical measures for identifying risk factors for violence at work and strategic actions that can be taken to keep employees safe.

Finally, maintenance of records is required, including required logs of work-related injuries and workers’ compensation records, training records, safety committee minutes, and the identification and correction of recognized hazards. In our resources section, you will find information sheets for resources on topics such as stress, violence, and bullying at work. Education is a key part of the work that we do at OHC. We provide workers with the information and skills needed to ensure their workplaces safe and healthy. OHC’s facilitators can develop hands-on workshops, tailored to your workplace’s needs – including workplace violence prevention and de-escalating potentially violent situations – to ensure that workplaces have the supports needed to protect workers from violence. 

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