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Most people think of violence as a physical assault. However, workplace violence is a much broader problem. It is any act in which a person is abused, threatened, intimidated or assaulted in his or her employment. While exact definitions may vary in legislation, generally speaking workplace violence includes:
Rumours, swearing, verbal abuse, pranks, arguments, property damage, vandalism, sabotage, pushing, theft, physical assaults, psychological trauma, anger-related incidents, rape, arson and murder are all examples of workplace violence.
Workplace violence is not limited to incidents that occur within a traditional workplace. Work-related violence can occur at off-site business-related functions (conferences, trade shows), at social events related to work, in clients' homes or away from work but resulting from work (a threatening telephone call to your home from a client).
Certain work factors, processes, and interactions can put people at increased risk from workplace violence. Examples include:
Risk of violence may be greater at certain times of the day, night or year. For example:
Risk of violence may increase depending on the geographic location of the workplace. For example:
Certain occupational groups tend to be more at risk from workplace violence. These occupations include:
Review any history of violence in your own workplace.
Evaluate the history of violence in similar places of employment.
Contact legislative authorities to determine if specific legislation regarding workplace violence prevention applies to your workplace.
Organize and review the information you have collected. Look for trends and identify the occupations and locations that you believe are most at risk. Record the results of your assessment. Use this document to develop a prevention program with specific recommendations for reducing the risk of violence within your workplace.
The most important component of any workplace violence prevention program is management commitment. Management commitment is best communicated in a written policy. The policy should:
A written policy will inform employees about:
It will also encourage employees to report such incidents and will show that management is committed to dealing with incidents involving violence, harassment and other unacceptable behaviour. Some employers caring to exceed "minimum" requirements in legislation include "personal harassment" in their anti-harassment policies. Personal harassment does fall under the definition of harassment - unwelcome behaviour that demeans, embarrasses, or humiliates a person; however, it is not covered by human rights legislation dealing with harassment related to race, ethnic origin, religion, sex, etc.
Preventive measures generally fall into three categories, workplace design, administrative practices and work practices.
Workplace design considers factors such as workplace lay-out, use of signs, locks or physical barriers, lighting, and electronic surveillance. Building security is one instance where workplace design issues are very important. For example, you should consider:
Administrative practices are decisions you make about how you do business. For example, certain administrative practices can reduce the risks involved in handling cash. You should consider:
Work practices include all the things you do while you are doing the job. People, who work away from a traditional office setting, for example real estate agents or home care providers, can adopt many different work practices that will reduce their risk. For example,
Most Canadian jurisdictions have a "general duty provision" in their Occupational Health & Safety legislation, which requires employers to take all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of employees. More information on this topic is available in the OSH Answers document OH&S Legislation - Due Diligence. This provision would include protecting employees from a known risk of workplace violence.
Jurisdictions in Canada that have specific workplace violence prevention regulations include Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut as well as Canadian federally regulated workplaces (for those organizations that fall under the Canada Labour Code, Part II). Quebec has legislation regarding "psychological harassment", which may include forms of workplace violence. Many jurisdictions also have working alone regulations, which may have some implications for workplace violence prevention. Ontario also has specific harassment legislation.
For a list of where violence is specifically referenced in the legislation for Canadian jurisdictions see Violence in the Workplace. (please note: viewing the list is free, you will require a subscription to see the actual legislation).
This list is not intended to be comprehensive. Contact your local authorities to find out more about the specific laws applicable to violence in your jurisdiction.
Other OSH Answers on this topic include:
CCOHS has produced a guide called Violence Prevention in the Workplace. This guide is written for anyone who wants to learn about workplace violence and its prevention. It is especially useful to individuals involved in the development and implementation of workplace violence prevention programs.
We also have created the following three e-learning courses based on the best selling pocket guide:
Add a badge to your website or intranet so your workers can quickly find answers to their health and safety questions.
Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.