Better Health and Safety is a vital part of OPSEU’s agenda. Bill 168 is new provincial legislation intended to protect against workplace tragedies. In no small measure it became law thanks to a vigorous campaign by OPSEU and other major unions who, too often, bore witness to violence and harassment against their own members.
This legislation is just one step in our mission to make all workplaces safe and healthy. Workplace harassment and violence is like acid: it burns those that are in direct contact. It corrodes the work and personal lives of all it touches. Everyone, including witnesses, becomes victimized.
For OPSEU members this is no surprise. Many are impacted by harassment or violence, whether the perpetrators are managers, clients or co-workers. For others, the threat may arrive from a current or former life partner who stalks them to and from work.
The new law requires employers to create specific policies in discussion with joint health and safety committees; the development of anti-violence and harassment programs, and by providing staff with information and safety instructions to ensure that they understand that violence and harassment will not be tolerated.
Plenty of details underpin these new obligations. That’s why we are training staff and local health and safety activists to ensure that employers respect and enforce the law.
OPSEU must also keep up the pressure for improvements to the law. We have to be smart in how we apply the law. To coin a cliché: the buck stops with the employer. The employer must not only develop the "paper policies and programs" as called for under the Act, but it must also ensure that real measures and procedures are implemented. This means that workers need to focus on the general duty provisions of the Act. These provisions require employers to ensure health and safety through effective action.
OPSEU rejects the idea of paper enforcement. Our membership must pressure employers to reinforce their paper plan by providing sufficient staffing, emergency procedures, safer physical environment, workable alarm buzzers, access to communication devices and a host of other measures that provide a workplace safety net against violence and harassment.
Let’s be guided by the phrase: "It's not what's in the drawer, it's what is happening on the floor!”
Workplace violence can come from at least four sources: a third party unrelated to workplace; other staff members; someone receiving service, or a life partner who infiltrates the workplace.
Many employers focus only on worker-to-worker violence. This affects only a fraction of our members. In health care facilities and the community living sector, the majority of workplace violence comes from clients. In these workplaces, that’s where the focus must be.
In short, too many employers ignore the mountain and focus on the molehill. We say: focus on preventing all types of violence.
To the extent of their powers and authority, all workplace parties have obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. But Bill 168 does not give an employer the right to offload this responsibility to joint health and safety committees or to the union. OPSEU has always maintained the employer must assure that health and safety always includes an obligation to protect workers from these hazards.
OPSEU urges everyone to make the Act work for them and their workplace colleagues. Education and action are the most important steps towards a healthier and safer workplace.
Working together through OPSEU will get us there!
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President