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.