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Security industry needs to pay attention to workplace violence regulations

On September 17 the Ontario Ministry of Labour sent out a consultation paper on the subject of workplace violence, and opened up a 30-day window during which employers across the province were invited to provide input on “whether the current protections in the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and its regulations should be clarified or enhanced to further prevent and address workplace violence in Ontario.”



October 30, 2008
By Brian Robertson

Topics

In their consultation paper, the province identified nine specific sectors
where the risk of workplace violence is particularly high: health care,
social services, retail, hospitality, education, transportation,
police, security agencies, and correctional services.  It also
identified several work activities that have been identified as risk
factors for workplace violence: handling cash, transporting people or
goods, having public or community contact, working alone and working
late nights or very early mornings.

This confirms what readers
of this column already know — that we in the security industry are
involved in the workplace violence issue up to our collective armpits. 
One of the questions the province specifically asked of those in the
private security sector was “whether or not it would be useful to have
requirements under the OHSA or its regulations that address particular
precautions that are needed to protect security workers from workplace
violence?”

The obvious answer to this question is “Yes!” But
was this answer communicated to the Ministry of Labour? It’s not
likely that very many employers from the private security industry made
submissions prior to the Oct. 17 deadline.  It’s clear that the
Province of Ontario intends to introduce a new workplace violence
regulation sometime soon.  It’s not clear that this regulation will be
drafted with much input from that sector which deals with workplace
violence more than any other.

Workplace violence regulations are
a good thing. They already exist in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan,
Manitoba, and Nova Scotia. Under these regulations, employers are
required to take steps to minimize the risk of workplace violence by
conducting risk assessments, having workplace violence prevention
policies and procedures in place, and sponsoring worker awareness
training.  Prevention is a good thing.  But the workplace violence
regulations that are in place in many provinces, and the workplace
violence prevention programs that are being delivered by armies of
OH&S consultants across every province these days, are often
ill-suited to help security employees face the unique challenges that
they face. 

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For one thing, all too often workplace violence
programs talk almost exclusively about harassment and bullying, rather
than about violence per se, because the OH&S consultants who
deliver them all come from HR (rather than security) backgrounds, and
don’t have the expertise to speak confidently on how to deal with “the
real thing.”  Ask a typical workplace violence consultant what an
employee should do once threats turn to actual violence, and he or she
will typically say “Oh, then you just call security and let them handle
it.”  Ironic, isn’t it?

Workplace violence regulations, whether
in Ontario or in other provinces, need to contain special provisions
which apply uniquely to those whose job it is to run toward violence
rather than away from it. There are employers who have employees who
are expected to be involved in confrontations with violent or
potentially violent people as part of their job.  Workplace violence
regulations should require those employers to provide those employees
with clear use of force policies, hands-on training on use of force
techniques, and protective equipment in the form of body armour,
handcuffs, and batons.

Some will argue that these kinds of
regulations should come under private security licensing legislation
rather than under OH&S legislation. But provincial security
regulators tend to focus on making sure that members of the public
don’t get hurt by security personnel, not on making sure that security
personnel don’t get hurt by members of the public. And they tend to be
very slow in introducing new regulations. Maybe OH&S regulators
have access to more political will than security regulators do. The
question is whether or not anybody in our industry will seize the
opportunity to tell them what our industry needs before they draft new
regulations.


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