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Workplace violence and harassment compliance: A tragic reminder

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On September 15, 2012, a Toronto gas station attendant was killed after reportedly being dragged and run down by the vehicle of a customer who was attempting to leave the station without paying for fuel.

This incident is a tragic example of the type of workplace violence that motivated the Bill 168 amendments to the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act in June 2010.

In that regard, Bill 168 provided for the specific recognition of workplace violence and harassment as occupational health and safety issues, and imposed new duties on employers and supervisors with respect to:

  • Risk assessments: Employers must regularly view their workplaces to assess workers’ potential exposure to violence, not only from other employees, but also from customers and other third parties.  This is particularly important for businesses that employ workers in “higher risk” roles, that involve, for example: (i) handling cash or other valuables; (ii) working alone or in an isolated environment; (iii) working very late or overnight shifts; and (iv) interacting with the general public.
  • Workplace policies and programs: Employers are required to maintain (and periodically review and update) workplace violence and harassment policies and programs, and to provide employees with information and training concerning those policies and programs.
  • Information about violent individuals: In prescribed circumstances, employers and supervisors are required to provide workers with certain information about any person with a history of violent behavior that such workers may be expected to encounter in the course of their work and who also may present a threat of physical harm.
  • Reporting obligations: Employers have specific reporting obligations when a worker is disabled from performing his or her regular work or requires medical attention as a result of workplace violence.

Both the Toronto police and the Ontario Ministry of Labour are investigating the September 15 tragedy; and the Ministry will no doubt carefully scrutinize the employer’s compliance with its Bill 168 obligations, as well as with the general duty to “take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances” for the protection of its workers.

Non-compliance with those obligations (like any other instance of non-compliance with the OHSA) can attract significant penalties under the legislation; and it is important to note that the Ministry is at liberty to audit any employer’s compliance at any time.

Whatever the Ministry’s assessment of the employer’s compliance in this case, the incident stands as a sobering reminder of the duties prescribed under Bill 168; and it should encourage all employers to consider (and, as appropriate, update) their anti-violence strategies.

Jason Beeho