OHS Compliance Briefing: Workplace Violence
- adapted from the July 2019 issue of OHS Insider
What Exactly Does Workplace Violence Mean?
Everybody knows that OHS laws require employers to prevent workplace violence. But what’s far less clear is what exactly “workplace violence” means. In fact, the term doesn’t mean exactly the same thing in each jurisdiction. The three variables:
1. What Counts as “Violence”
“Violence” includes actions and threats of physical harm. But it may also include harassment and other forms of “vexatious conduct” that cause or have the potential to cause “psychological” harm. Of course, jurisdictions that limit “violence” to physical dangers also typically have separate OHS protections for harassment. Even so, the distinction is important because measures required for violence are different than those required harassment.
2. Whether Prevention Duties Cover Worker-on-Worker Violence
Most jurisdictions define “violence” as including acts by a “person” that cause or threaten harm to a worker.
3. What a “Workplace” Is
The term “workplace” goes beyond the physical facility or site to any location where a worker engages or is likely to be while engaging in work for the employer, including vehicles and mobile equipment. On the flip side, there are six jurisdictions—MB, NB, NS, SK, NT, NU—where OHS workplace violence duties (or at least some of those duties) apply only to specified high-risk workplaces, including health care, financial, retail, police, etc.
If, as a business owner, there is a workplace violence prevention program, it is imperative that the definitions of “workplace violence”, “workplace” and “violence” are clearly understood and what the terms mean in each jurisdiction in which the business operates.
Workplace violence: any action, conduct, threat or gesture towards an employee in their work place that can reasonably be expected to cause harm, injury or illness to that employee
Workplace: any place an employee is engaged in work for employer
Violence: attempted, threatened or actual conduct of a person that causes or is likely to cause injury, including any threatening statement or behaviour that gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that the worker is at risk of injury
Place of employment: any plant, (i.e., premises, site, land, mine, water, structure, fixture or equipment employed or used in the carrying on of an occupation) in or on which one or more workers work, usually work or have worked