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Workplace violence tops ministry’s legislative agenda

By Mari-Len De Guzman
| www.cos-mag.com

TORONTO - The Ontario Ministry of Labour has introduced legislation that will amend the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act to include worker protection against workplace violence.

Labour Minister Peter Fonseca made the announcement at the opening ceremony of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association’s Health and Safety Canada 2009 Conference and Tradeshow. The show kicked off on Monday, April 20th, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Fonseca said the amendments the ministry is introducing around workplace violence would include protection against domestic violence and workplace harassment.

The proposed legislation seeks to require employers to develop a framework that would include policies and programs to help prevent workplace violence and harassment, according to a ministry statement.

If passed, the legislation will also require employers to take reasonable precautions to protect workers from domestic violence in the workplace, and include provisions that will allow workers to remove themselves from potentially harmful situations in the workplace if they have reason to believe there is imminent danger of violence.

Last September, the ministry released a consultation paper discussing workplace violence and raised the possibility of introducing amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include provisions specific to workplace violence prevention.

Latest data from Statistics Canada indicate over 350,000 incidents of workplace violence were reported in 2004. Most of these violent incidents occur in health care or social services industry. In Ontario, health care workplaces have the highest violence-related lost-time injury rates.

Coinciding with the proposed legislative amendments, the Ministry of Labour also launched “specific measures to tackle workplace violence in the health care sector” and appointed Rob Devitt, president and CEO of the Toronto East General Hospital, and Heather Laschinger, distinguished university professor and associate director for Nursing Research at the University of Western Ontario’s School of Nursing, as Health Work Environments Champions.

A 2008 study released by York University and Carleton University, noted that about 39 per cent of health care workers experience violence on a daily basis.

In his message at the Health and Safety Canada show, Fonseca said the move toward expanding the legislation to include workplace violence protection is “definitely something that everyone supports.”

“These amendments will complement the initiatives of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ministry of Education to reduce violence against workers in those sectors.”

Also speaking at the IAPA show’s opening ceremony was IAPA president Maureen Shaw and WSIB chair Steve Mahoney, who reported some successes in reducing lost-time injury rate and reducing workplace fatalities.

Earlier, Fonseca reported a reduction in the number of workplace fatalities from 107 in 2007 to 78 last year. Mahoney said that while this reduction is great, still about 260 people die every year from occupational diseases.

“The reality is that this is a tragedy in our province and indeed in our country, where we have to rise up and say we’ve had enough of this,” he said.

A copy of Bill 168 - - An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters - can be viewed here.

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