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Canada Toughens Workplace Violence Laws

Workplace ViolenceWhile still uncommon, it seems like the evening news is reporting more and more sad instances of disgruntled employees bringing violence to the workplace.  Just last Wednesday, a troubled ex-husband of a hairdresser entered a Salon in Seal Beach, California and murdered eight people.  While the perpetrator was not an employee of the Salon, the shooting is a reminder that employees are also human beings with families, relationships, and sometimes complex problems…all factors that can lead to increased stress and despondency in work situations.

In fact, some experts worry that there is a direct correlation between the Great Recession and a rise in violent incidents on the job.

According to a Reuters report, James Cawood, an expert on Violence Assessment Training, said “People are flat out concerned…People that are staying in companies where there has been significant downsizing and there’s also been major dislocation…are worried at every level.  Even in down economic times, I’m doing more training now than I’ve done in years.”

Many experts note that incidents of violence in the workplace rarely come out of the blue. Often the individual will voice threats or suggest displeasure before the event.  Thus, one key for employers is to take seriously and address reports of possible violence intentions rather than letting them stay at the level of gossip and innuendo.

Perhaps the Occupational Safety and Health Association can take a lesson from its neighbor to the North.  Canada is currently taking concrete steps to address a growing concern in the labor sector: workplace violence.

The province of Manitoba is set to make changes to safety provisions mandating employers to put in place violence-prevention policies.  Specific labor sectors will be required to install systems for tracking and reporting violent events.  Further, employers will be empowered to release personal information if they feel the safety of their employees is threatened.

While some of the sectors affected by the change seem obvious (corrections, health care, policing, crisis counseling) others are not.  The financial sector is included, most likely due to increased stresses on the public and their interactions with banking and investing during this time of economic stagnation.   Sadly enough, education, too, has become a space where teachers are often thrust into violent situations without adequate training or warning.

Unfortunately, many incidents of violence that do not necessarily result in death occur in health care settings, like emergency rooms and hospital wards.

Sandy Mowat, President of the Manitoba Nurses Union, notes these new laws will allow medical providers to flag a patient’s file if they have been violent on past occasions. “Health care workers, and in particular nurses, have a right to know if this individual has put a health care provider at risk in the past.”

This legislation seems sound, and could be something OSHA could look into to empower employees and employers to protect their own interests.

If you have overheard threats by co-workers that you think might not be in jest, you should immediately contact a supervisor in a confidential manner and express your concerns.  If you have been the victim of an accident or injury in the workplace stemming from a violent or aggressive co-worker, be sure to contact an experienced Washington Workers’ Compensation Attorney to guide you through the Labor & Industries claims process.

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Emery Reddy