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Ontario officers will have right to refuse unsafe work

On April 20 Bill 168, Ontario’s new workplace violence prevention law, passed First Reading. Once it comes into force this law will require employers to develop and implement comprehensive workplace violence prevention programs that include workplace risk assessments, procedures for summoning help in emergencies, and workplace violence training.



May 13, 2009
By Brian Robertson

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When Bill 168 becomes law, Ontario will become the seventh province in
Canada (following B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and PEI) to enact workplace
violence prevention legislation.

Ontario is the first province to include a provision in its workplace violence law
that will give a worker the right to refuse to perform work
under circumstances where he or she has reason to believe that
workplace violence is likely to endanger him or her. Up until now,
workers in Ontario could only exercise their “right to refuse” when
there was something unsafe about the physical environment.

Ontario is
not the first province to permit work refusals in workplace violence
situations — the right to refuse provisions in other provinces are all
broadly enough worded to include workplace violence — but it is the
first province to expressly say that workers have this right, in the
wording of the legislation itself.

Not many security officers in Canada have ever told their employers
that they would not perform the duties that are asked of them because
the risk of harm to themselves — through the violence of others — is
too high. But some have, and it would be prudent for employers to
anticipate that more and more will.

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In some provinces, a worker cannot refuse to do work on the grounds
that it is unsafe if the employer can show that the risk of violence is
an ordinary condition of work in that occupation. In some provinces
this only applies to certain categories of workers like the police. In
Ontario, a security officer would only be prohibited from exercising
his or her right to refuse work because of the threat of workplace
violence where he or she is employed in the operation of a hospital or
similar facility, and where facing the prospect of workplace violence
would be considered to be a normal condition of his or her employment.

Even in health-care security settings, however, employers will need to
carefully review their positions. Once an employer argues that facing
the threat of workplace violence is an ordinary condition of employment
for its employees, the next question is, “What are you doing to provide
your employees with the training, equipment, and back-up necessary to
adequately protect them from this (admittedly) normal risk?”

The arrival of workplace violence regulations in any province should be
good news for the security industry in that province. In Ontario,
someone is going to have to provide employers with the knowledge,
expertise, skills, and services that they are going to need to access
in order to become compliant with this new law. That someone will be
you.
But the new workplace violence legislation in Ontario is a double-edged
sword. The employers of security personnel bear no less responsibility
than other employers do to protect their employees from workplace
violence. In most cases the duty imposed on us is even greater, because
exposure to the possibility of workplace violence is an inherent part
of what our employees do.

The time has come for security employers to either “use the outhouse or
get out of it.” If you are a security employer and you really think
that your employees have no more to do with the potential for violent
confrontations than hairdressers or accountants or surgeons do, then
this isn’t your issue. And if you think that your employees ARE more
exposed to the potential for violence than most non-security workers
are, you have probably already asked yourself, “Am I doing enough to
protect my employees from violence?”

Bill 168 makes it necessary for
employers of security personnel in Ontario to now ask two new questions, "Do my employees think that they are more exposed to workplace
violence than other workers are, and  Do they think that I am doing
enough to protect them?”


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