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Workers still at risk despite CAMH conviction, say reps

By Mari-Len De Guzman

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto was fined $70,000 after it pled guilty to two charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, but CAMH workers seem unimpressed noting that despite the conviction, there has been little change at the hospital to address worker health and safety issues.

In separate statements, the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union OPSEU) – both representing CAMH workers – noted that CAMH workers still face a “growing tide” of workplace violence. [Watch: Code White: Workplace violence in Canada]

“The problem at CAMH seems to be inadequate implementation of controls identified through hazard/risk assessments, testing of safety equipment and procedures, a lack of training and enforcement of policies and procedures generally, and an uncaring attitude about the safety of its nurses,” said Linda Haslam-Stroud, president of the ONA.

The OHS charges followed after two separate incidents of violence against CAMH staff in 2007 and 2008.

On November 14, 2007, three nurses at CAMH's Secure Observation and Treatment Unit were physically assaulted by a patient who was able to enter the nursing station and started punching the nurses. Security staff reportedly arrived at the scene but could not access the unit because they did not have a key.

On September 17, 2008, a nurse was sexually assaulted and forced into the washroom by a patient at CAMH's Assessment and Treatment Unit. The nurse was able to escape when another patient startled the offender.  According to the Ministy of Labour statement, there was a personal alarm system in place in the building, but it was not in use in that specific unit. There were also no written procedures in place for the use of personal alarms.

CAMH pleaded guilty to both charges and was fined $35,000 for each charge. Justice of the Peace Peter Gettlich, who imposed the fine, also imposed a 25 per cent victim fine surcharge on the total amount as required by the Provincial Offences Act.

“We think that CAMH really got what they deserved and probably perhaps sort of got a little bit of a heavier penalty,” said Nancy Pridham, OPSEU regional vice-president and president of the Local 500 union at CAMH representing 1,700 workers. “It’s only money to them, right? It doesn’t mean that they are going to implement any of the changes.”

Pridham admits there have been “marginal changes” for the better, including the recent hiring of a new risk management director, and the union leader has high hopes that the new director “is going to be very effective in implementing many of the risk assessments.”

Both ONA and OPSEU, however, note there has been no significant improvements at CAMH when it comes to protecting workers against violence.

According the Pridham, eight more OHS-related orders have been issued by the Ministry of Labour to CAMH in recent weeks.

“So the question is, will CAMH ever catch up on all the orders that have been written and when are they ever going to comply? When are they going to take the health and safety of everyone at the facility seriously?” she said.

The union leader also welcomed the introduction of Bill 168, which adds workplace violence protection to the Occupational Health and Safety Act. “It’s the most important first step. In order to actually make hospitals like CAMH – negligent hospitals like CAMH – comply, there has to be some kind of language ensconced in the legislation and until that happens, hospital workers, health care workers who work in this kind of an environment will always be at risk.”

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