B.C. coroner's jury calls for workplace violence rules

Jury recommends more training and regulations to prevent incidents like last fall's double-murder suicide at a government office in Kamloops

A coroner’s jury in British Columbia has come forward with eight recommendations for government employers in the wake of a fatal workplace shooting last year.

The jury spent almost two weeks examining the double-murder suicide at the Land, Water and Air Protection office in Kamloops, B.C., on Oct. 15, 2002.

On that day, Dick Anderson, 55, walked into the office and opened fire with a handgun hours after being fired from his job as regional manager for pollution prevention. He shot and killed Dave Mardon and Jim McCracken, both 54, before turning the gun on himself. Mardon was a union steward with the B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU) and McCracken was Anderson’s supervisor.

The eight recommendations have been met with praise by the BCGEU and they are pushing the province to act quickly to implement them.

“The jury’s recommendations for improved training, a better reporting structure and tightened safety regulations should result in better awareness and a greater capacity to address potential risks in a workplace,” said George Heyman, BCGEU president.

Among the recommendations is an expansion of the Workers’ Compensation Act’s health and safety regulations to cover implied or express threats of violence by one worker to another. Those regulations should also be reviewed yearly, the jury said. All complaints of violence in the workplace should also be documented.

Heyman also praised recommendations for annual performance reviews including appraisals of managers, with input from subordinates, and the call for a risk assessment if there are any concerns about a potentially violent reaction from individuals who are let go.

“It came out repeatedly in the testimony that Anderson was not dealing well with stress,” said Heyman. “An expert psychiatrist testified that constant re-organization and 40 per cent staff cuts in the ministry contributed to significantly increased stress for Anderson. It is clear that the tragedy of Oct. 15 began months and years earlier when the government failed to deal with the problems with this manager. When it finally did act, the results were disastrous. The government ought to provide better training and support to managers and staff so the stress of these deep cuts in the workplace does not push others over the edge.”

The recommendations from the coroner’s jury

The coroner’s jury made the following recommendations, including the following introduction: “We, the jury, would like to give our condolences to the families and the people involved or affected by this tragedy. Hopefully our recommendations will help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.”

Here are the eight recommendations:

1. The government review Part 4 of the Workers Compensation Act, Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and consider:

•expanding the definition of workplace violence in Sec. 4.27 of the regulation to cover implied or express threats of violence by one worker to another;

•amending the subjective test for reporting undesirable workplace conduct (“any threatening statement or behaviour which gives the worker reasonable cause to believe”) found in Sec. 4.24 of the regulations and replacing it with provisions which make the reporting of express or implied threats of violence mandatory whether or not the person hearing the threat takes them seriously;

•amending the regulations to allow for reports of threats of violence to be made in confidence; and

•amending the provisions governing workplace violence and improper conduct to make it clear that any express or implied threat of violence to a co-worker is prohibited conduct.

2. The government review the manner in which employees are informed of the workplace violence regulations and government policies and procedures regarding workplace violence. That this review include:

•consideration of adopting a government-wide policy which would require government employees to review the regulations and any relevant ministry policies regarding workplace violence on an annual basis, the review being documented by having the employee initial each page of the relevant materials with a copy being retained in their personnel file;

•consideration of ensuring that the contact numbers for reporting express or implied threats of violence to be posted in each workplace;

•to ensure an external ombudsman be available to all employees requiring assistance; and

•ensure that all employees are made aware of all the avenues available to raise concerns or complaints.

3. That the government review its current workplace training programs to ensure they include training on how to deal with the threats by one worker towards another. In addition, workplace training programs for all staff be mandatory and attendance be documented and filed.

4. That the government review its policy on employee performance reviews and consider:

•that employees at all levels receive at least annual performance reviews and development plans;

•that performance reviews include a review of interaction with staff;

•the annual performance reviews for management and supervisory staff shall have input from staff and supervisors (360-degree view); and

•where there is a change of supervisor and/or manager, the new supervisor and/or manager should review all appraisals of their staff.

5. That government procedures for terminating employees be reviewed and consider:

•developing a formal risk assessment protocol for use by supervisors who are required to give notice to employees that are being terminated;

•if this risk assessment indicates that the employee might respond angrily to such a dismissal making it clear that the supervisor is required to consult with qualified professionals to further assess the risk of violence on termination;

•that the government ensure that qualified professionals are on retainer to provide such advice to supervisors who are required to give notices of termination to employees; and

•when terminating an employee, a minimum of two people be present during the process, not including the person being terminated.

6. All complaints by staff of violence, either expressed or implied, be documented and filed.

7. Ensure due diligence on part of the employer that Occupational Health and Safety committees are utilized effectively in accordance with Part 3 of the WCB regulations relating to Occupational Health and Safety programs.

8. Ensure there is a comprehensive fire and emergency escape plan in any workplace. The plan should be practiced within four weeks of moving into a new premise and in any event on an annual basis. The emergency escape route should be posted at a central location or central locations.

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