On the eve of a trial in which the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is charged with operating an unsafe workplace, the world-renowned institution must redouble its efforts to guarantee a safe work environment for patients and staff alike, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said today.
“The start of tomorrow’s trial marks a significant day for CAMH,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, whose union represents more than 1,800 staff members at the downtown Toronto centre. “Nobody takes pleasure in what will unfold in court. But the trial starting May 7 is a wake-up call to all health care facilities that violence in the workplace must never be tolerated and that severe penalties await those which willfully disregard health and safety regulations.”
CAMH has been charged with four counts under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) for operating an unsafe workplace. The charges stem from a January, 2014 incident in which a patient violently attacked a registered practical nurse and, moments later, a registered nurse who came to her colleague’s assistance. The attack left each nurse with severe injuries which required months of recuperation.
CAMH faces a maximum $2 million fine if convicted on all counts.
Without prejudging the outcome of the trial, Thomas noted that the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for enforcing the OHSA, typically conducts a thorough review of events and circumstances leading up to an incident before determining whether or not to lay charges.
“Obviously, the Ministry felt there were serious grounds to lay charges and we are pleased they did,” he said. “For too long incidents of the sort CAMH is now facing went unreported or underreported which left patients and workers at high risk of violence. By my reckoning that is the definition of an unsafe workplace.”
Citing figures from 2013-2014, Nancy Pridham, president of OPSEU Local 500 at CAMH, said CAMH reported 514 workplace violence incidents, 453 of which involved physical assaults or abuse – a 29-per cent increase over incidents the previous year.
“For our members the issue comes down to an organization taking responsibility for keeping its employees and clients safe,” said Pridham. “That means having good communications in place, proper training from top-to-bottom, a transparent accounting of violence, and a plan in place to stop health care professionals from being injured or harmed when they’re on the job.
“Unless CAMH is ordered to improve its record of violence in the workplace I’m afraid we could see more charges in the months and years to come.”
Warren (Smokey) Thomas