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The intersection of workplace violence and occupational health & safety: A tragic reminder marks the fifth anniversary of Bill 168

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On June 7, 2015, a Calgary gas station attendant attempting to prevent a “gas-and-dash” was run down by the vehicle; and she later died of her injuries. This tragedy made headlines across the country; and reports indicate that the employee, Maryam Rashidi, was only on her third day on the job when the incident occurred.

The matter is being investigated by both the police (who already have two suspects in custody) and Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety authority (which will no doubt scrutinize the employer’s compliance with its statutory obligations regarding workplace violence prevention, and, in particular, the employer’s practices and protocols for providing new employees with training regarding workplace violence).

Indeed, this is a tragic example of the type of incident that motivated Alberta, Ontario and other Canadian jurisdictions to recognize workplace violence as an occupational health and safety issue, and to ensure that workplace violence is expressly dealt with in occupational health and safety legislation.

The workplace violence provisions of the Alberta legislation are similar to the Bill 168 amendments to Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (“OHSA”), which came into effect – to considerable (and well-deserved) media attention – just about five years ago today, on June 15, 2010.

In that regard, Bill 168 imposed new duties on Ontario 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.

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 of Labour is at liberty to audit any employer’s compliance at any time.

Five years ago, Bill 168 compliance was top-of-mind for employers; and, since then, violence awareness, prevention and response strategies have become adopted and engrained to various degrees. Whereas many employers have devoted considerable energy and attention to their obligations in that regard, others have perhaps become more complacent. In any event, there is almost always room for improvement; and Ms. Rashidi’s tragic death, so close to Bill 168’s fifth anniversary, should motivate all employers to revisit – and, as appropriate, update and bolster – their anti-violence strategies.

Jason Beeho

About the Author: Jason Beeho brings a real-world sensibility to his representation of employers in all aspects of employment law, including human rights, occupational health & safety, and workplace safety & insurance. Jason enjoys the practice of employment law, and maintains a constant interest in keeping up-to-date on legal developments that could affect his clients.