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OPSEU files appeal to protect health workers from attacks

| www.cos-mag.com

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union(OPSEU) has filed an appeal with the Ontario Labour Relations Board to order Providence Care Mental Health Services to place security on an inpatient unit where staff have been repeatedly attacked.

A Ministry of Labour inspector visited the institution in Kingston on Oct. 20 after a worker complained of inadequate safety measures of an adult health unit. Staff have been threatened, choked, spat on, punched and kicked said the worker.  Workplace violence has increased, because of chronic short-staffing of the unit at night and on weekends.

"We know when staff aren't safe, that means the patients aren't safe either," said OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas. "When employers break the law, we need the Ministry of Labour to make them stop. Strong enforcement of our laws is vital to address the imbalance of power in the workplace."

All employers are required to abide by the Occupational Health and Safety Act which states all reasonable measures to control the risk of workplace violence must be taken said the union. More than 300 incidents of workplace violence have occurred in the facility to date.

According to the union the ministry has the authority to order security to protect front line staff, as has been done in other workplaces. Labour board's vice-chair Kelly Waddingham confirmed that the ministry had the authority to place security professionals in units with history of violence. 

There is precedent, a decision last year prompted trained security professionals to be placed on the forensic unit of the Brockville Mental Health Centre after a nurse was stabbed in the neck by a violent patient.

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