Aftermath of BC sawmill shooting

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

How to identify risk factors for workplace violence

Developing workplace violence and harassment policies and programs

Workplace violence and harassment: Understanding the law

Last month in British Columbia, two sawmill workers were fatally shot and two more injured by a former employee. Most of us tend to think that violence in the workplace happens elsewhere, usually in big cities, not small towns like Nanaimo

It’s only in the last five years that Ontario updated its legislation with regard to workplace violence. In 2010, changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) required employers to have policies and procedures in place for the prevention of violence and harassment in the workplace, and to review those policies at least annually. 

“As society evolves, so, too, does what is considered acceptable behaviour in the workplace,” says Tom Welton, Industrial Director at Workplace Safety North. “It wasn’t so long ago that intimidation, harassment, or threatening behaviour was not that uncommon in the workplace. Fortunately – especially for younger people entering the workforce – a culture of civility and mutual respect is becoming the new norm. I mean, it’s basically the golden rule: treat others how you would want to be treated. ”

Northern Ontario Safety Group, a provincial safety group made up of business owners and employers, has chosen to focus on workplace violence and harassment policies and procedures as their common program development element for 2014. “We want to ensure all businesses have a full understanding of the legislation, as well as how to implement related policies and procedures that will help them put the best possible prevention program in place,” says Welton.

Risk factors for workplace violence

Every workplace is different, and your workplace may have additional risks not covered in the sample list below. Contact your health and safety association consultant for suggestions or materials to conduct a more focused assessment.

  • Direct contact with the public
  • Handling cash
  • Working with unstable or volatile clients
  • Transporting people or goods
  • Working in high-crime areas
  • Working alone or in small numbers
  • Mobile workplace – e.g. on the road or in remote areas

Examples of workplace violence

According to the ministry guide, examples of violence in the workplace include: 

  • Verbally threatening to attack a worker
  • Leaving threatening notes or sending threatening e-mails
  • Shaking a fist in a worker’s face
  • Throwing an object at a worker
  • Sexual violence against a worker
  • Trying to run down a worker using a vehicle or mobile equipment, such as a forklift

What the law says about workplace violence

How is workplace violence legally defined in Ontario? The Occupational Health and Safety Act focuses solely on the threat of physical violence:

  • The use, or attempted use, of physical force by a person against a worker that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker
  • A statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to use physical force against the worker, in a workplace, and that could cause physical injury to the worker

Health and safety training

Health and safety training is available on workplace violence, and Workplace Safety North offers a half-day in-class training program that provides participants with all the necessary knowledge and tools to comply with every aspect of the new legislated requirements, and to establish effective violence and harassment prevention policies in their workplace.

The material explains the definitions of violence and harassment in the Act and reviews the various factors that need to be considered when assessing and controlling the risk of violence and harassment in the workplace. The course is intended for JHSC members, health and safety coordinators, supervisors, managers, directors and owners. 

Protect yourself and your workers

Even though it’s difficult to contemplate the idea of physical violence or even death in the workplace, it’s important to have a plan to deal with the possibility. 


Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention – WSN half-day in-class training course

Video: Preventing workplace violence and harassment - Ministry of Labour health and safety inspectors discuss responsibilities around workplace violence and harassment.

Workplace Violence – Infographic, Workplace Violence News

Workplace Violence and Harassment: Understanding the Law – Ministry of Labour guide

Developing workplace violence and harassment policies and programs: What employers need to know – Occupational Health and Safety Council of Ontario 

Workplace violence and workplace harassment – Ministry of Labour resource page

Sample Workplace Violence Survey - Based on material from the Ontario Safety Association for Community and Healthcare. This survey may be used to ask workers and management about their perception of their safety in the workplace.