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Columns/Blogs Employee Wellness Health & Safety
Workplace safety essential in keeping business going

August 2, 2022
By Therese Castillo


Just recently, Starbucks announced its plan to close 16 of its stores across the US, as stated by the company CEO Howard Schultz in a Twitter video post by American radio show host Ari Hoffman.

The announcement follows the open letter penned by senior vice presidents of Starbucks US operations Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelsen, which reiterated the company’s focus on “creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place” as their “top priority.”

Schultz added that the decision does not indicate unprofitability of their stores, rather it is a heed to the call of its retail partners about “personal safety concerns.”

With one of the biggest global brands resorting to store closure to protect its workers, it is high time that companies revisit their efforts to keeping their workplace safe and their business going.

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What the law states

“Canadian employers have a statutory obligation to protect the health and safety of its workers,” said Hyde HR Law managing partner John Hyde. Specifically in Ontario, the law emanates from the Occupation Health and Safety Act (OHSA), where the federal government requires employers to take every reasonable precaution to protect its workers from being injured or becoming ill from a work-related incident.

Hyde specified Section 32 of OHSA that addresses workplace violence and harassment.

“This includes the employer requirement to: assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, type of work or conditions of work [subsection 32.0.3(1)]; ensure the assessment takes the circumstances into account that are specific to the workplace and circumstances common to similar workplaces [subsection 32.0.3(2)], and include in the workplace violence program measures and procedures to control identified risks identified in the assessment as likely to expose a worker to physical injury [clause 32.0.2(2)(a)],” he shared.

While the OHSA covers the jurisdiction of Ontario, Hyde reminded that the same requirements are mirrored in every provincial and federal jurisdiction across Canada that enforces a statutory duty of care for all Canadian employers to meet.

What it means for business

“The test imposed upon employers is basically one of due diligence,” said Hyde, which means that employers should always consider the risks employees may face in the workplace. “Naturally, if the risk is on account of location, and if cannot be sufficiently minimized or remedied, whether by security or otherwise, then closing down a location may in fact be a sensible approach,” he added.

Moreover, employers need to take into account that risking workplace safety may entail liability.

“Under the Occupational Health & Safety Act, and similar legislation across Canada, employers in violation of their obligations (requiring a safe workplace) can face fines up to $.5M. In some cases, employers can be civilly sued by an injured worker, a worker’s family, or estate, under what is called tort law,” said Hyde.

What can employers do?

Aside from their lawful obligation, employers can impose tighter security measures through implementation of training programs along with use of technology. Having a protocol in place is the first step to alleviating possible threats surrounding the workplace.

Especially in problematic areas, “weekly security training and awareness messaging for employees” is important, advised Business Continuity Lead of the Security Executive Council Dean Correia. Specifically, employees should be trained on how and when to report any incident that causes them fear or concern. Moreover, ensuring physical security is always functioning and communicating prominently that physical security is in place through signage could help ward off threats.

“Build relationships with local business and police proactively to facilitate efficient communication of neighbourhood risk,” said Correia.

Below, Correia recommended simple practices that employers can implement in the workplace:

  • If a customer becomes aggressive, reinforce with the customer that you are trying to solve their problem, and set the expectation for their behaviour.
  • Establish a code phrase to support employees during a difficult customer interaction. If other employees hear the code phrase (i.e., “Did you see the Blue Jays game last night?”) they know that you are having an uncomfortable conversation with the customer and that they should monitor the interaction from a distance. Should the situation escalate, employees will be able to quickly call the police since they have been monitoring the situation.
  • Implement consistent training on how to recognize and report the signs of workplace violence.
  • Utilize available security technology such as voice over camera solutions, which when alerted, have a trained professional from the company verbally de-escalate the situation through a speaker in the ceiling on behalf of the employees. Apps also exist to virtually escort staff entering and leaving work should they feel afraid.


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