Nova Scotia updates violence regulations (Legal view)

Employers are required to develop a prevention plan and perform regular risk assessments

Earlier this year, Nova Scotia introduced Violence in the Workplace Regulations under its occupational health and safety legislation, bringing it into line with workplace violence strategies in British Columbia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan.

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

Employers were required to complete a workplace violence risk assessment by Oct. 1, 2007. The next step 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

commitment 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, easily accessible location at each workplace.

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 or adopt a code of practice on violence established by the director of occupational health and safety.

Preventative measures

According to the Reference Guide to Violence in the Workplace Regulations, published by the Occupational Health and Safety Division, 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 most reasonable to its needs.

The guide includes the following common-sense measures:

keep back doors closed;

prominently display notices stating the premises are monitored;

do not cover windows with posters and ads;

make arrangements with 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; and

establish and document procedures for providing employees with training and information.

In establishing, reviewing or revising a prevention plan, the employer must consult with any joint occupational health and safety committee and representatives.

Employees exposed to a significant risk of violence in a workplace must be provided with information as to the nature and extent of the risk and any factors that may increase or decrease the risk. Unless prohibited by law, this 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

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 workplace 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.

Employees required to perform a function under the prevention plan must be trained on the plan generally and the particular function the employee is expected to perform.

Employees exposed to or affected by violence must be provided with an appropriate debriefing and advised to consult with a health professional for treatment or counselling.

All employees and management are obligated to report incidents of violence to the employer and these must be documented and promptly investigated to determine their causes and the actions needed to prevent reoccurrence.

An employer must ensure it gives notice of the action taken, to prevent reoccurrence of an incident of violence, to any employee affected by the incident, any representative or workplace committee.

Assessment and review

An employer must conduct a new risk assessment for each workplace at least once every five years and may have to do so prior to the deadline if:

it becomes aware of a type of violence that was not taken into consideration for the previous risk assessment;

there is a significant change in the circumstances in which the work takes place, in the interactions that occur in the course of performing work or in the physical location or layout of the workplace;

the employer plans to construct a new facility or renovate an existing facility; or

ordered to do so.

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 plan must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised at least once every five years as well.

Two or more employers may collectively provide and maintain the required statements, plans and services. However, these must be provided to everyone working at each workplace.

Rick Dunlop is a lawyer with the labour and employment group of Stewart McKelvey Stirling Scales in Halifax. He can be reached at (902) 420-3384 or [email protected].

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