A workplace violence risk assessment may precede or follow the statement of policy on workplace violence prevention, but every employer must ensure that this occurs. There is no requirement for a risk assessment for workplace harassment as defined in Bill 168, but there are a myriad of issues arising from the Bill 168 requirement that the employer assess its workplace for workplace violence risks. Following are some common questions that arise regarding workplace violence risk assessments.
Who should perform the assessment?
Neither Bill 168 nor the guidelines from the Ministry of Labour provide any specific direction on who is to conduct the risk assessment. The organization is free to have the risk assessment conducted by internal staff or an external party as it sees fit. Regardless of who is selected to perform the risk assessment, the person should have sufficient knowledge of the risks of workplace violence applicable to that particular workplace.
What must be considered as part of the assessment?
Bill 168 requires an employer to assess the risks of workplace violence that may arise from the nature of the workplace, the type of work and the conditions of work. Beyond this, it does not mandate the specific factors to be assessed when an employer evaluates the workplace violence risks that exist in its workplace.
The guidelines from the Ministry of Labour do provide some elaboration, and the expectations set out are largely in keeping with the usual factors considered to be best practices when assessing the risks of workplace violence.
Does an assessment have to be done for each location?
For employers such as retail organizations, with multiple locations where the same, if not identical, work is performed, it may be tempting to conduct a single, global workplace violence risk assessment on the basis of some representative locations. However, Bill 168 requires that the assessment account for factors that are specific to the workplace.
Employers have to consider the differences among its workplace locations. Such differences may include the hours of operation, the type of work performed, the location of the workplace (e.g. a mall versus a standalone location, a high crime versus a low crime neighbourhood, etc.), the clientele and the physical layout of the location. The Ministry of Labour guideline suggests an assessment for each location.
Should or must workers be surveyed as part of the assessment?
As part of its assessment, the employer may also consider surveying its workforce regarding past incidents of workplace violence. There is nothing in Bill 168 or the
Ministry of Labour guidelines that indicates that this is required or will be expected. Therefore, the decision to survey the workforce is a personal one for the employer.
On the one hand, an employee survey may enhance the employer’s response to the issue of workplace violence as it may learn of previously unreported incidents of workplace violence and be able to identify specific risks including problem individuals. On the other hand, a complete survey of the workforce may not be practicable depending on the organizational and communication structures that exist in the workplace. In such circumstances, the employer may choose not to survey the employees or may come up with another mechanism to gather employee input.
Does the assessment need to be written?
There is no obligation under Bill 168 to have the assessment reduced to writing. However, in considering this matter, the employer should consider that it will want to have reference to the information in the assessments that were done. For instance, having a written copy of the assessment will best allow the employer to demonstrate compliance should that become necessary. As well, having historical assessments available will allow the employer to understand the factors that have been previously considered in assessing risk, and whether those factors remain sufficient and applicable, and allow determination of whether a reassessment is necessary. Written assessments will also make reassessment of the workplace a much easier task.
How often should reassessments be done?
Bill 168 requires that the employer perform reassessments “as often as necessary” to ensure that the workplace violence policy and program continue to protect workers. Beyond that rather generic phrase, Bill 168 does not stipulate a timeframe, nor any other triggers for a reassessment.
Given the factors to be taken into account in the assessment, one can glean that a reassessment would likely be required if there were any changes in the nature, type or location of work that rendered the previous assessment inadequate. As well, should the employer have an incident of workplace violence, it is likely that the workplace would have to be reassessed in light of the incident and any changes implemented to prevent a recurrence.
The Ministry of Labour guidelines recommend that employers review the assessment at least annually. This recommendation does not indicate that the ministry will expect a reassessment to be performed at least annually. Rather, it is an indication that it considers it a best practice for employers to annually review the assessment, which could be done as part of the mandatory annual review of the workplace violence policy, as this may bring any deficiency in the assessment to light and highlight the need for a reassessment.
(Next: Questions about employee privacy, training, work refusal. Read Part 1 of this series: Challenges of complying with Bill 168)
Cheryl A. Edwards is a former Ontario OHS prosecutor and is now a partner in Heenan Blaikie LLP’s Labour and Employment Group. She is Lead in the firm’s national OHS & Workers’ Compensation Practice Group. Cheryl can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (416) 360-2897.
Jeremy Warning is a senior Associate in Heenan Blaikie LLP’s Labour and Employment Group and a member of the firm’s national Occupational Health & Safety & Workers’ Compensation Practice Group. Jeremy may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at (416) 643-6946.