Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine

British Columbia employers will soon have access to a toolkit that offers guidance on what to do when domestic violence enters a workplace.

Roberta Ellis, Senior VP of corporate affairs for WorkSafeBC in Richmond, British Columbia, which is developing the kit, says the aide will provide information on how to recognize the signs of domestic violence, discuss how to assist potential victims, described legal obligations under provincial health and safety law and the Criminal Code of Canada, and spell out the responsibilities of workplace parties.

It was anticipated the materials would be presented to an advisory group made up of employers, workers and labour representatives in September, 2011, Ellis says. The guide – which will likely be translated into numerous languages, including Punjabi, traditional Chinese, Cantonese and Tagalog – is expected to be released later this fall.

WorkSafeBC staff are also working on developing a multi, media training tool that contains a domestic violence scenario and how best to handle the situation, Ellis says. “This is material that we can put in the hands of the workplace parties to assist them with this very, very difficult topic when it impacts our workplace.”

She emphasizes that there are no plans for British Columbia to amend provincial requirements, similar to what was done in Ontario last year.

Effective June 15, 2010, Ontario’s OHSA as required employers “who are aware or who ought reasonably to be aware that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker’s physical injury may occur in the workplace must take every precaution reasonable the circumstances to protect the worker,” notes information from the Ministry of Labour (MOL) in Toronto.

“How we are looking at this is the existing regulations oblige an employer to protect workers from hazardous workplace conditions or other safety hazards,” Ellis says. “We think that also applies to protecting coal-workers for violent acts in the workplace, even if the Genesis is in the worker’s private life.”

The toolkit is in response to a recommendation from a BC Coroners Service special review panel convened last year.

But just a few summers ago, domestic violence found its way into a newsroom in Surrey, British Columbia. On July 28, 2011, RCMP received a 911 call reporting a stabbing and progress at the office building of Sach Di Awaaz, a free weekly Punjabi-English newspaper.

By the time responders arrived, 24-year-old Ravinder Bhangu had died of “multiple stab wounds,” says Sgt. Jennifer pound, a spokesperson for the British Columbia RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigations Team.

Bhangu’s husband, 26, was arrested at the scene. A man who tried to intervene and stop the attack suffered minor injuries, Pound says.

Donna Freeman, director of media relations for WorkSafeBC, says that in situations where domestic violence has entered the workplace, board officers may follow-up with the employer to determine if OH&S obligations have been met, such as conducting a workplace risk assessment. “But this is a criminal matter first and foremost, so our role is going to be limited,” Freeman emphasizes.

“If you become aware of a situation in which there is a threat of violence that could affect other workers,” Ellis advises, “conduct a risk assessment, identify the hazards and take steps.”

One challenge is the wall of silence around domestic violence, she says. “An employer doesn’t necessarily know this is happening. Often, the individual is terrified, doesn’t want to talk about it, and sometimes extraordinarily embarrassed.”

My opinion

Yes, the province of Ontario is, again, leading the country in health and safety. Each employer has to have policy and procedure to deal with both ‘violence in the workplace’ and ‘harassment in the workplace’. (section 32.0.1 of the OHSA) (June 15, 2010)

Under section 32.0.2 of the OHSA an employer shall develop and maintain a program to implement the policy including measures and procedures to control the risks identified in the assessment required. The ‘Program’ also has to include measures and procedures for workers to report incidents of workplace violence to the employer’s and set out how the employer will investigate and deal with incidents and complaints placed violence and harassment.

Considerations during the assessment process should take into account circumstances that would be common to similar workplaces and circumstances specific to this particular workplace. The employer shall advise the joint health and safety committee or health and safety rep., if any, of the results of this assessment and provide a copy of the assessment in writing.

Section 32.0.4 of the OHSA deals with ‘Domestic Violence’ and states;

“If an employer becomes aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace, the employer shall take every precaution reasonable the circumstances for the protection of the work.”

Please ensure that your work place is a safe place.

Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”

HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’, ‘Violence and Harassment’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.

We can also be reached at info@hrsgroup.com

‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.

Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Advanced Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.