Bill C-65: Importance of violence and harassment risk assessment
By Bill Howatt and Troy Winters
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the final commentary in a four-part series designed to help employers navigate Bill C-65 to ensure compliance.
When establishing programs for the prevention of violence and harassment, organizations must consider all the hazards and related risks that could lead to workers experiencing violence or harassment.
All factors listed below are considered important, regardless of existing controls. Following is a list of some general considerations:
Has the physical structure and layout been designed to reduce the likelihood of violence and harassment?
For example, have barriers or locks been used to control access? Are there places where people can easily hide? Is there adequate lighting and ways for workers to move to a safe location?
External building environment
Has the exterior of the building been designed to ensure there are no blind points, and that people can enter and leave the building safely?
Is the building located in an area where other crimes are frequently reported?
Does the work require interactions with the public, enforcement activities, working late, handling money or other valuables, or take place in an environment where alcohol is served?
Are the emergency procedures adequate to respond to violence or harassment to limit danger and have all staff been adequately trained?
Do people have to work during non-regular hours and how does this impact emergency procedures?
Working with the public
Workers with jobs working with clients, customers, or other members of the public are generally at a higher risk of being exposed to harassment and violence, as the employer has less control over the actions of non-employees.
This increases the risk and may require additional controls like barriers, signage, or even the presence of security.
Remember that workplace violence and harassment are not limited to incidents that occur within traditional workplaces.
The Canada Labour Code defines the workplace as “a place where an employee is engaged in work for the employee’s employer.”
So, while violence and harassment can occur in the workplace, it may also occur at other functions and locations related to work, such as conferences, training sessions, social gatherings, while travelling for work, in a client’s home, or other work-related locations.
Online harassment, that may not seem directly related to the workplace, can also be a risk for the workplace.
Certain factors that place increased pressures and stress on workers, such as workload, uncertainty, and low job control, can lead to a reduction in positive workplace culture, incivility, and an increase in harassing behaviours and potential violence.
Once the risk factors have been identified, the joint assessment should consider what controls are in place for each hazard.
When determining if a control measure is effective, the committee can consider the following questions:
- Have the controls solved the problem?
- Is the risk posed by the original hazard contained?
- Have any new hazards been created?
- Are new hazards appropriately controlled?
- Are monitoring processes adequate?
- Have workers been adequately informed about the situation?
- Have orientation and training programs been modified to deal with the new situation?
- Are any other measures required?
- Has the effectiveness of hazard controls been documented in your committee minutes?
- What else can be done?
Remember, the employer should always apply the most effective, feasible control measures.
When deciding on control measures to be implemented, workplace violence and harassment risk controls should be approached considering the hierarchy of hazard controls.
Elimination: Removing the hazard is the most effective control measure. It may include barring members of the public who have made threats, arranging for removal of patients in facilities that are not designed to treat them, or reassigning clients who’ve hurled epithets at a marginalized worker.
Engineering controls: Hazards are not eliminated, but workers are isolated from them. Controls may include installing locks, barriers such as plexiglass walls, or high counters.
Administrative controls: The way people work is changed through workplace policies, procedures, and processes. Examples of administrative controls include rules or policies about minimum staffing levels, employment equity, which entrances are used after hours, or ensuring that guards are assigned to walk with workers as they go to their cars, or even reassignment in some cases.
Personal protective equipment: Additional equipment worn by workers can reduce the effect of a hazard, but it is the least effective control measure. Personal protective equipment should only be considered as a protective measure when other measures are not possible. An example of personal protective equipment would be a hard hat.
Finally, while the employer has ultimate control over the workplace and the final say on discussions made to control risk, the regulations require that when worker members of a committee or the health and safety representative are unable to agree, that the matters be documented, including the employer’s final decision, and the reasons for that decision.
Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting and the former Chief of Research and Workforce Productivity at The Conference Board of Canada.
Troy Winters is a senior health and safety officer at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ottawa.
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