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Time to get tough on violence

Ontario manufacturers have only a couple months to put policies in place that are in compliance with new Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) amendments, but many are unsure what they need to do.


May 20, 2010
by Noelle Stapinsky, Features Editor

Ontario manufacturers have only a couple months to put policies in place that are in compliance with new Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) amendments, but many are unsure what they need to do. One thing is for certain; it will involve a lot more than putting a policy notice on the bulletin board.

The Bill 168 amendments to the OHSA come into effect on June 15 and require employers to conduct risk assessments, draft new policies, educate staff and warn employees if they may come into contact with someone that has a history of violence. It also gives employees the right to refuse work if they feel at risk.

Andrew Harkness, the Industrial Accident Prevention Association’s (IAPA’s) senior strategy advisor, says employers should look at this as an extension of existing health and safety programs, rather than something new.

“What’s quite surprising is that the ministry chose to make an amendment to the statute rather than a separate regulation,” says Harkness. “What they didn’t do is give employers the ‘how to’ stuff.”

Most provinces across the country have similar legislation, but Toronto-based labour and employment law firm Sherrard Kuzz agrees there are issues arising from the broad definitions outlined in the new rules.

The Ministry of Labour has defined workplace violence as “the exercise of physical force by a person against a worker in a workplace that causes or could cause physical injury; an attempt to use physical force against a worker; and a statement or behaviour that a worker could interpret as a threat…”

But the new definition doesn’t make clear employers are also obligated to ensure each worker is safe from any person that may come into contact with an employee while on site at the workplace or, as with sales staff, offsite. This “person” could be a supplier, client or someone who has a personal relationship with an employee.

In Ontario more than 17% of self-reported incidents of violence happened in the workplace, and 66% of these incidents were committed by someone the victim knew, but who wasn’t a co-worker.

“Keep those risk sources in mind when doing risk assessments,” says Erin Kuzz, a founder of Sherrard Kuzz.

Harassment, which was limited to racist, sexist or other comments covered under the Human Rights Code, is now defined as “a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably be known to be unwelcome.”

These amendments extend an employer’s obligation beyond the workplace and blurs the lines of privacy laws. If, for example, a male employee was in a bar brawl and charged with assault, that doesn’t necessarily mean he is a risk to coworkers. Just the same, if an employee comes to work with bruises or injuries, it may be more than a simple accident.