Creating a safe workplace depends on all of us to report hazards when we see them. These hazards include workplace violence. Workplace violence is a hazard that tends to creep up on us, or seemingly comes out of nowhere. It is not always predictable the way slips on a wet floor might be. The key to controlling this hazard is to ensure that all incidents, no matter how small, are reported and documented so that they can be part of an ever-improving plan to protect all workers.
Workplace Violence is defined by the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the following way:
“workplace violence” means,
- The exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker,
- An attempt to exercise physical force against a worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker,
- A statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.
If we consider what this means to our members in schools, we can look at the 3-part definition of violence one part at a time to gain a better practical understanding.
- The exercise of physical force… This section talks about the exercise of physical force, which is generally understood by most. Even if the actual physical force does not cause injury, you have to consider if it could have caused injury. In addition the definition talks about a “person” exercising force against a “worker”. Because this act does not include any consequences for the “person” and that there is no need for the “person” to have intent to injure under this act, this would apply even to students with profound disabilities who might unintentionally injure a worker.
- An attempt to exercise physical force… This section talks about a person trying to injure a worker, even if they are prevented from doing so, and includes near misses. If the action of the person could have caused physical injury if they had been successful, then it counts as violence. For example if someone kicked a water bottle at your head and it misses, it is still violence under the definition.
- A statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret… This section of the definition relates to behaviours that may not specifically be a direct attempt to exercise physical force to injure, but the kinds of behaviours, comments, gestures or even drawings which imply a threat. For example is a student walks into your class and makes a slashing gesture across their neck at you, a reasonable person would interpret that as a threat of physical violence.
When determining if something is violence under this Act, it is crucial not to be confused with language from other acts such as the Ed Act or the criminal code. Intent or the ability to form intent is NOT required. There is no professional judgement on the part of supervisors to determine if something is or is not violence, and there are certainly no mitigating circumstances. Because there are no consequences from labelling an incident as violence under this Act, there should be no hesitation in doing so.
Please continue to the Report it section of this document.
All incidents of violence, even if there is no injury, should be reported. Reporting an incident (or even a near-miss) helps to document that there has been a problem and can help establish “a history of violence”. This is the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and your fellow members. Violence has become one of the most common sources of incident reports in the last 4 months in our board, and is still under-reported.
Why report violence in my schools
Reporting an incident (or even a near-miss) helps to document that there has been a problem and can help establish “a history of violence”. Reporting is the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself and your fellow members. The life you save may not be your own. Reporting an incident both to the unit and on the appropriate board forms serves the following functions:
- It creates a paper trail – proof of when it was reported and to whom
- It establishes a timeline of what happened and when
- It begins a “clock” for when the employer must respond
- It provides evidence to support possible WSIB claims if needed
- It establishes a history of violence as defined by the OHSA
- It requires that admin notify workers who come into contact with that person of what they need to do to stay safe
- It engages processes that could make the workplace safer
- It notifies the JHSC of potential hazards they could address
- It puts responsibility on the employer to deal with the situation
A safe workplace is the responsibility of all workers. If you experience violence and “let it go” you are putting yourself and everyone else into a position of possible danger. Too often, these incidents are ignored, or teachers “feel bad” about reporting it and do not. By reporting an incident, you are not creating a consequence for the aggressor, you are only starting a process to help protect all workers from a possible incident.
As an example, if a female PIP student in a wheelchair has a tendency to hit the teacher in the face when she is being moved outside, this counts as violence under the OHSA. This does NOT mean that the student will be suspended. Once this incident is reported, the admin will then have to inform all workers who come into contact with this student that she has a history of violence. They also have to tell those workers enough information to help keep them safe. In this example it could be to put a process in place to move this student differently, add additional staff for this activity, provide PPE which may be needed and so forth. The report does NOT disadvantage the student or punish her in any way, it creates a new process to avoid more incidents and improve outcomes for this student in the long term. You can only avoid a hazard if you know it is there.
As a final note, you have an obligation under the OHSA to report any potential hazards, including the potential for violence. If you see someone else being the subject of violence in the workplace, you should still report the incident to the admin even if the other teacher does not. If you permit it, you promote it.
How do I report violence in my school?
To report an incidence of violence, you may need to complete a number of written Board forms. It is not enough to make a verbal report or send an email.
To report an incident of violence that has occurred, you will need to complete a GF390: Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board Incident Investigation Report. This form is only available in hard copy and should be readily accessible in the main office. This form should be completed by the administrator by interviewing you. In section 18 of the form, you would ask that Violence is selected, and then the type of violence would be recorded in section 18b.
One copy of this form is returned to you within 24 hours of receipt. Please either fax or courier a copy of this form to the unit office immediately to the attention of the Worker Co-Chair (our fax number is 905 564-7214).
In addition to this form, there are some other related forms you may need to complete. If the violence is perpetrated by a student the Education Act requires the completion of a Safe Schools Incident Report (Board Form GF025)
If you feel there is an ongoing threat of violence, or there has not yet been an “incident” but you feel unsafe from potential violence, you should complete a GF395: Employee Health and Safety Concern Report. This form is available in hard copy only in the main office and should be readily available. This form is completed by the employee and handed to the administrator. The employee completes the top part to indicate what she or he feels is an unsafe situation, and can be used to ask admin what they will do to make the environment safe. This form must be completed by the administrator, and a copy returned to you with their response within 48 hours of receipt. A copy of this form will automatically go to the Worker Co-Chair at the unit office.
In some instances, it may also be required that you complete a Safe Schools Incident Reporting Form which is available through GF025. This form is to be used any time the violent incident by a student is of the kind where a suspension or expulsion would be considered. Please do not put your personal phone number on this form. You will be issued a receipt for submission of this form as it is an obligation under the Education Act.
Why is a “history of violence” important?
When a person has a “history of violence”, the OHSA requires that the employer give workers as much information as is necessary to be safe at work. This means that if they know a student has a history of violence under the act, they have to tell all staff how to work differently to avoid this potential hazard. The OHSA defines what violence is (see “recognize it” page), therefore a person who has done any of those three things, even once, has a history of violence. The act of reporting violence establishes a history of violence for a person, and requires the employer to tell others so that they can avoid being hurt. If there is a student in your school with a history of violence, teachers do not need to know what that student has done, but they must know how to stay safe around that student.
Remember your three rights:
- The right to know
- The right to participate and
- The right to refuse unsafe work
The right to know is#1, therefore knowing about the potential for violence is paramount.
It is not enough to recognize and report violence, it is important for you to follow up on your actions and concerns, and to follow steps needed to keep you safe at work.
- After submitting any forms to admin (GF390, GF395 or SSIRF-GF025), you should follow up with the admin to ensure that you have received your copy within the time expected. Do not simply assume that you will get it someday, or that the unit would already know what is happening.
- Make copies of all forms or other documentation, and send a copy of any GF390s to the unit office by courier, or fax it to (905) 564-7214 to the attention of the Worker Co-Chair.
- Read your school’s Risk Assessment and look to see if any measures or controls should already be in place.
- If there is some kind of a safety plan that is developed, ask to have input into it, and ensure that you are following it.
Remember that, under the Act, the admin has a responsibility to inform staff of the potential for risk from a person with a history of violence.
Finally, remember your three rights under the Act:
- The right to know
- The right to participate and
- The right to refuse unsafe work
Following up on reports helps others know about potential hazards.