Nova Scotia fights workplace violence with new regulations

Employers are now required to develop prevention plans and perform regular risk assessments

On April 4, 2007, Nova Scotia introduced Violence in the Workplace Regulations under the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act, bringing the province into line with workplace violence strategies in British Columbia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The regulations only apply to employers in certain sectors such as retail sales, taxi and passenger transit services and health services sectors, but they apply a blueprint for best practices for employers in various industries across the country.

Employers affected by the regulations were required to complete a workplace violence risk assessment by Oct. 1, 2007. The next major step for these employers is the establishment and implementation of a workplace violence prevention plan, which must be completed by April 1, 2008.

The regulations require employers to take the following steps.

Prepare a written workplace violence prevention statement. The statement must include the employer’s:

•recognition that violence is an occupational health and safety hazard at the workplace;
•recognition of the physical and emotional harm resulting from violence;
•recognition that any form of violence in the workplace is unacceptable; and
•committment to minimize and, to the extent possible, eliminate the risk of violence in the workplace.

An employer must post a copy of its workplace violence prevention statement in a prominent location in each of its workplaces so it can be easily accessed by employees.

Take and document reasonable measures or adopt a code of practice. An employer covered by the regulations must either take and thoroughly document reasonable measures to minimize and eliminate the risk of violence in the workplace or adopt a code of practice on violence in the workplace established by the director of occupational health and safety.

Preventative measures

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Division’s Reference Guide to the Violence in the Workplace Regulations, there are no specific measures referred to in the regulations. Rather, the employer is required to consider the range of possible options and select and implement those that are most reasonable to its needs. The reference guide refers to the following common sense measures:

•keep back doors closed;
•prominently display notices stating that premises are monitored;
•do not cover windows with posters and ads so you cannot see in or out;
•make arrangements with other nearby employers to have employees watch each other’s premises;
•keep cash register funds to a minimum and post a sign stating this;
•make sure lights in parking lots or over access doors are changed promptly when burnt out;
•establish and document procedures for providing employees with the information and training.

In establishing, reviewing or revising a prevention plan, the employer must consult with any joint occupational health and safety committee and joint occupational health and safety representatives. Once the prevention plan has been created, it must be made available for examination at the workplace by workplace parties.

Employees who are exposed to a significant risk of violence must be provided with information as to the nature and extent of the risk and any factors that may increase or decrease the extent of the risk.

Unless prohibited by law, the duty to provide information to an employee includes a duty to provide information related to a risk of violence from a person who has a history of violent behaviour if the employee is likely to encounter that person.

Training and supervision

In accordance with the procedure in the workplace violence prevention plan, any employee who is exposed to a significant risk of violence must be provided with adequate training on:

•the rights and responsibilities of employees under the Occupational Health and Safety Act;
•the violence prevention statement;
•the measures taken by the employer to minimize or eliminate the risk of violence;
•how to recognize a situation in which there is a potential for violence and how to respond appropriately;
•how to respond to an incident of violence, including how to obtain assistance; and
•how to report, document and investigate incidents of violence.

There must also be training of an employee who is required to perform a function under the prevention plan with respect to the plan generally and on the particular function which the employee is expected to perform under it.

Dealing with violence

Employers must provide employees exposed to or affected by violence with an appropriate debriefing and must advise such employees to consult with a health professional of the employee’s choice for treatment or counselling.

All employees and management are under an obligation to report incidents of violence to the employer. The employer must ensure all incidents of violence in a workplace are documented and promptly investigated to determine their causes and the actions needed to prevent reoccurrence.

An employer must ensure the notice of the action taken to prevent reoccurrence of an incident of violence is given to any employee affected by the incident, any committee established at the workplace and any representative selected at the workplace.

Assessment and review every five years

An employer must conduct a new risk assessment for each of its workplaces at least every five years and may have to do so prior to the five-year deadline if:

•it becomes aware of a type of violence that had not been taken into consideration when the previous risk assessment was conducted;
•there is a significant change in the circumstances in which the work takes place, the interactions that occur in the course of performing work or the physical location or layout of the workplace;
•the employer plans to construct a new facility or renovate an existing facility; or
•an employer is ordered to do so by an officer.

If a new risk assessment shows a significant change to the extent and nature of risk of violence, the employer must ensure the prevention plan is reviewed and, if necessary, revised. The prevention plan must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised at least every five years as well.

An employer who has employees performing work at multiple temporary workplaces is not required to conduct a risk assessment or prepare a prevention plan for each individual workplace if the employer prepares plans that covers similar workplaces collectively. Two or more employers may enter into a written agreement to collectively provide and maintain the statements, plans and services required under the regulations. However, it must be provided to any employee, contractor, constructor, supplier, owner, self-employed person or officer engaged at the workplace.

Rick Dunlop is a member of the Labour and Employment Group at Stewart McKelvey Stirling Scales in Halifax. He can be contacted at (902) 420-3384 or [email protected].

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