Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine
The justice presiding over a public inquiry into the murder of a young social worker in Lethbridge, Alberta more than six years ago has recommended that provincial group homes strengthen safety training and procedures.
The recommendation is one of more than a dozen outlined in the report on the death of Sharla Collier, 20, in November of 2002. The worker at a group home operated by Lethbridge Family Services (LFS) was attacked and sexually assaulted while on a walk with a resident, 14-year-old Ira Badger, who had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Collier died from the “application of three blunt force impacts to the left side of her head” from a large fallen tree branch, Justice Lloyd Malin writes in the report, released on January 19.
The inquiry recommendations focus on the formal education and training of care workers, group home policies and practices, worker safety, and existing oh&s requirements. Justice Malin cited the need for the following measures:
• care workers should have specific education and training as well as “complete and unrestricted” access to all current records concerning the behaviour of individuals under their care;
• a care worker working alone with a resident “exhibiting a sexual preoccupation or a propensity for aberrant sexual behaviour” should be of the same sex as that resident;
• group homes should require care workers to accurately record all aberrant behaviour incidents and note any actions taken in response as part of daily summaries;
• employee personal safety should be the subject of group home policies (addressing such issues as identification of risks related to residents, situations and sites, aberrant behaviour de-escalation and management, and physical intervention techniques) that are developed in consultation with qualified professional psychologists and work safety experts; and,
• Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Council should develop a code of rules with oh&s warnings, precautions, risk avoidance and risk management requirements for facilities housing “unpredictable and potentially violent” residents.
Justice Malin notes, however, that “even if all of the recommendations had been implemented before November, 2002, there is simply no assurance that the fatality would have been avoided since, as with most violent criminal acts, its incidence and the perpetrator were unpredictable.”
The general belief, he adds, was that Badger “posed no significant risk to the care workers and that his aberrant behaviour was often self-directed to his own harm or that of his own property.”
Karen Collier, Sharla’s mother, takes issue with the finding that some people with FASD “are no more of a threat” than those without the disorder.
Though Badger did not have a “notable” record of violence against others, he was impulsive, easily frustrated, unpredictable and “noted as having no boundaries or fear,” the inquiry report says.
Sharon Lopatka, a spokesperson for Alberta Children and Youth Services, says that while the recommendations do not directly relate to her provincial department, it has worked with contracted agencies on an online “alert system.” The computer system, Lopatka reports, helps identify “children in care with a potential for being violent.”
The executive director of LFS, Dave Adams, says his agency “fully embraces all the recommendations,” adding that LFS “shares in the grief of the Collier family.”
Some changes have already been adopted by LFS, including a revised lone worker policy, revamped staff training, restrictions on locations considered suitable for staff-client outings, and amended rules concerning cell phone availability.
I bet the majority of readers out there were shocked (or maybe not) concerning this unfortunate death. As always, it takes a death in the workplace to suggest change, which may or may not be acted upon. I wish there was a section of the government that would hear suggestions concerning upgrades in health and safety. Anyone in the health and safety field will tell you that Alberta is still miles behind the other provinces in workplace health and safety, especially in enforcement. If you live in Alberta, please notify your provincial member of parliament and suggest change at your level.
Please do not wait until a member of your family becomes a workplace statistic.
By the way, I wonder why it took so long?
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 ‘Violence and Harassment in the Workplace’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer