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Mar 4, 2014

Workplace violence: We can’t stop everything, unfortunately

Fatal stabbings in Edmonton hard to fathom, but could they have been prevented?

By Todd Humber

The news out of Edmonton last week was shocking. A 29-year-old worker at a Loblaws grocery distribution centre donned a military-style vest, walked into his workplace during shift change and began stabbing people.

When the carnage was over, two people — Thierno Bah, 41, and Fitzroy Harris, 50 — were dead and four others were injured. Jayme Pasieka was arrested a couple of hours after the attacks. He was sitting in his car in an industrial area on the other side of the city.

These types of incidents are, thankfully, relatively rare in Canada. And when they do happen — such as the 1999 rampage at OC Transpo where former employee Pierre Lebrun shot six workers, killing four, before turning the gun on himself — the question invariably arises: Could this have been prevented? Were there warning signs?

When Lori Dupont, a nurse in Windsor, Ont., was killed in a murder-suicide by Marc Daniel, a doctor at the hospital she worked at in 2005, Ontario responded with an inquest that ultimately led to the creation of Bill 168, which put considerable onus on employers for the prevention of violence in the workplace.

It’s far too early in the Edmonton Loblaws investigation to know if there were obvious or subtle warning signs the employer might have picked up on. Police haven’t identified a motive yet — at least not publicly — but they are looking for any writing that “indicated workplace conflict, mind set or pre-planning or motive for the incident,” according to the Canadian Press.

Police do say they believe Pasieka was drinking wine before the attack, and court records show he has a history of erratic behaviour, according to CP. In 2010, he was convicted of assault with a weapon and uttering threats and sentenced to 15 months’ probation.

He set a heart-shaped fire on his street. He egged a neighbour’s car, and told police he did this in the name of the Queen. His father says an accident that gave him a concussion scarred him, and made it difficult for him to understand things.

Those are certainly red flags, but it’s a giant leap to go from bizarre behaviour to physically attacking and killing someone. And who knows if any of this bizarre behaviour manifested itself in the workplace? Pasieka might have been a model employee. At this point, we don’t know.

That’s always the most troubling thought in the wake of incidents like this — that, no matter how many measures we put in place, someone who is determined will find a way to create carnage.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to prevent the next attack. Anti-bullying and harassment legislation isn’t perfect. We can never pour enough resources into mental health. No amount of words on paper in the form of a law can stop every aggressor.

But I’d like to think Ontario’s Bill 168 has made a difference. I’d like to think workplace psychological harassment laws across the country making employers proactive, and preventing countless incidents in the process.

In the wake of the deaths of these two men, Alberta needs to take a long, hard look at its legislation, the resources it puts into mental health and the type of assistance employers need in preventing another incident.

We can’t stop every one, but we have to try our best to ensure history doesn't repeat itself.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.
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If more managers got mangement educations and monitored....
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 9:43:00 PM
Unfortunately in this sector, most manager do not get management training or additional education to develop their soft skills and group management skills.

It is so important, in my opinion, for management to be mindful of the social environment between workers, and monitor growing conflict and disputes amongst workers.

However, in this sector I would also want to know if this a full time or part-time worker because currently there is a trend in these large retail companies to be giving part-time workers only 24 hour max a week. In fact, as someone with 6 years in the industry, I can comfortably inform others that most pt-workers are getting much less and struggling.

This in itself creates a great deal of anxiety and stress for people trying to make ends meet.
Workplace violence: We can’t stop everything, unfortunately
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 4:05:00 PM by Cheryl A. Edwards
Just briefly Todd and all, there seems to be a sense out there that Ontario's Bill 168 amendments to the Ontario OHSA put in place significant violence prevention measures while other jurisdictions lag behind. Ontario was one of the last jurisdictions to join in adding such provisions. Alberta has a robust set of requirements including a definition of workplace violence, recognition of it as a workplace hazard, requirements for risk assessments and many other requirements. Sad that despite all of these measures it was not enough to prevent such an act of violence.
Re: Culture change needed
Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:51:00 PM
I agree with Culture Change Needed. Policy, both governmental and workplace, are not worth the paper they're written on if they have no teeth. I can tell you from personal experience that even the unions, which are supposed to help in situations of workplace harassment, duck their responsibilities in this regard. It seems to me that acts committed on the job would be considered crimes if they took place on the street or in a home. Why is that okay in a country like Canada?
Culture change needed
Saturday, March 08, 2014 9:42:00 PM
Part of the problem is not harassment from fellow employees, but harassment from big companies (such as Loblaws) in running the warehouse in an atmosphere of fear. Employees are pushed to work harder, then it is imaginably reasonable and disciplined for every littile thing they can find or make-up. These companies are masters of double talk, spending small fortunes to try and convince its workers and the community its a great place to work, instead of doing anything to make it a good job. Unless this changes I'm afraid we will see many more of these incidents.
So What Are HR Professional To Do?
Thursday, March 06, 2014 5:00:00 PM by Deputy Chief (Ret) Neil LeMay, Alberta Sheriffs
Susan Heathfield recently wrote that, "a very real, clear and present danger lurks just beyond the consciousness of people who work together eight to ten hours a day, five to seven days a week; it is the potential for violence to occur in your workplace."
For many people, the fear of violence in the workplace, from both internal and external sources, is understandable when you stop and think that the workplace is the one place where many of us are forced to interact with people we did not chose to have in our lives, and in some cases would otherwise avoid altogether.

When there is concern about an individual or employee who may resort to workplace violence in the future, we recommend a structured, pre-planned intervention as soon as the first warning signs or red flags are observed in the workplace.

While extreme workplace violence incidents, like the one that occurred at Loblaw's in Edmonton last week, remain relatively rare in Canada, the consequences of such an attack are so devastating that all workplace professionals must understand concepts such as the Violent Behaviour Escalation Curve and the concept of "leakage" in order to prevent violence. Awareness of behaviours, thoughts and emotions that may serve as warning signs or red flags is also very important.

When one also considers that even in big urban centres, municipal police services still take 10 to 15 minutes to arrive on scene to neutralize the attacker, the value of employee training takes on new significance. This means that employees will be on their own for this first terrifying time period. Training and drills are essential to minimize the loss of life.
A good strategic approach to this problem involves these pillars:

If it can be predicted, it can be prevented;

A plan, any plan, is better than no plan;

Survival favours those who prepare.