||Volume 10, Number 7, May/June 1998|
Health and Safety
by Lynne Sinclair
Violence prevention is one of the BCTF’s top priorities in the health and safety program. The other, indoor air quality, was covered in the April 1998 issue of Teacher. BCTF studies, research, and experience indicate that violence prevention is of growing concern to teachers.
Violence is defined in the WCB Regulation as “the attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes any threatening statement or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that he or she is at risk of injury.” A threat against a worker’s family that is a result of the worker’s employment is considered a threat against the worker for the purpose of 4.27. When an employer is made aware of such a threat, the employer is required to notify the worker and to notify the police. The employer is also required to co-operate in any investigations necessary to protect the worker or the worker’s family. Anyone who becomes aware of a threat made against another worker’s family must report it to the supervisor or employer. Worker-to-worker violence is covered by another section, 4.24 “Workplace Conduct” and by our collective-agreement language on harassment. Violence can be culpable or non-culpable, but it is still violence from which the employer must protect workers. An example of non-culpable behaviour; students with special needs who involuntarily kick, bite, or strike people.
Each school district is required by WCB Regulation, Part 4, Sections 4.27 through to 4.31, to prevent or minimize the risk of violence to workers. A violence-prevention program must include a risk assessment of each workplace. Some districts have completed only a district-level risk assessment. That does not comply with the WCB Regulation. Each workplace is different—different design, different composition of students (special needs, the existence of gangs, evidence of racism, family violence, and different socio-economic backgrounds, to name just some factors that must be considered in a risk assessment at the school level. The risk assessment of a workplace is to include previous experience in that workplace, occupational experience in similar workplaces (which should be supplied by the employer), and the location and circumstances in which work will take place. It is vital that all teachers in the workplace and all other workers be consulted and participate in the process, particularly the health and safety committee in the school, which should review the risk assessment and either approve it or suggest improvements.
After a proper assessment of risks to workers has been completed, the employer must establish policies, procedures, and work-environment arrangements to eliminate the risk of violence to workers. A key element in a school violence prevention program is that teachers, students, parents, and guests be made aware of behavioural expectations and consequences should those expectations not be met. If elimination of violence is impossible, the employer must minimize the risk. The employer must also establish procedures for reporting, investigating, and documenting incidents of violence.
The next step of implementing a violence prevention program is instruction of workers as to the nature and the extent of the risk of violence from students or others whom they are likely to encounter in their work. Some of the instruction is necessarily individual and some should be provided during work time to the staff as a whole. Teachers on call, student teachers, and students on work experience also need to be briefed prior to any assignment. While the Young Offenders Act (YOA) prohibits the release of a specific charge or conviction and the proceedings of a hearing, an employer must provide enough information to teachers to protect them. The YOA and the WCB Regulation work in concert with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOI). Section 25 of the FOI requires the disclosure of information, without delay, about the risk of significant harm to the health and safety of the public or a group of people. Teachers exposed to potentially violent persons have a right to pertinent information about those persons, sufficient to appreciate and respond to that risk; the teachers to whom the information is released are then under the same constraints as the employer with regard to disclosure. No application to the employer or to the FOI Commissioner is necessary; in these circumstances, the employer must disclose the information without delay.
The collective instruction of workers provides the means for recognition of the potential for violence; the procedures, policies, and work environment to minimize the risk to workers from violence; the appropriate response to incidents of violence, including how to obtain assistance; and procedures for reporting, investigating, and documenting incidents of violence.
Work environment arrangements range from putting a gate in the office between the front counter and the wall to restrict entry to the work area, providing well-lit entrances and exits, to ensuring that all personnel wear identification badges.
Some of the policies of the violence prevention program may be established by the district, with individual schools including other policies as necessary. One key policy is a clear, unequivocal statement that opposes violence of any kind. A key policy for teachers is one that guides them as to when it is appropriate to physically restrain students. In addition, there should be an emergency plan in place so that, for example, should a bomb threat be made to the school, there is a communication code word or phrase and an evacuation plan, or should a person with a gun be sighted, there is a plan of lock-up and security. A crisis-management team that is trained in handling critical incidents (district based or school based), is another component of violence prevention because people trained in anger or violence diffusion can often prevent violence from occurring.
With regard to reporting, some districts have developed a “Violent Incident Report Form,” and others use the report form used for other accidents or incidents. A separate form would flag violent incidents as part of an evolving violence prevention program. For example, a description of the offender is important information. Such reports help form the basis for continually updating both the risk assessment and the policies and procedures. They also form the basis for a WCB claim, should a teacher suffer injury or harm as a result of an incident. It is vital that teachers report incidents of violence—to ensure a better awareness of the potential for violence, provide information to develop better policies and procedures, and ensure that everyone is aware of the risk, behavioural expectations, and consequences. The employer is required by the Regulation to take corrective actions in response to the report. The report will help to establish any subsequent refusal to work or WCB claim. The employer is also required to advise a worker who reports an injury or adverse symptom, to consult a physician of the worker’s choice. The WCB Regulation requires workers to report violent incidents. Section 4.31.1 states “Incidents of violence must be reported...” Failure to abide by this regulation could leave you liable to personal penalties should you not report a violent incident. If the supervisor or employer is at fault by not being in compliance with the violence prevention section, they may be individually or collectively penalized.
If you experience a violent incident you should have access to critical-incident debriefing, through the Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP), a specialist in the district, or a professional of your own choice to minimize the psycho/social impact of the incident. The debriefing will document the assistance that was required. If you are filing a WCB claim, inform your supervisor and your doctor, who both must fill out WCB forms. Your supervisor must also provide you with a WCB form you should fill in with the assistance of either a member of the health and safety committee or your local president. The two most common reasons for denial of a WCB claim is lack of detail in an original claim and delay in filing a claim.
Other sections in the WCB Regulation also assist in violence prevention. For example, Section 4.21 “Working Alone or in Isolation” requires written procedures for checking on the well-being of the worker and instructions to the worker.
WCB recognizes violence as an occupational hazard. It is specifically included in the Regulation and is required to be part of the overall Occupational Health and Safety Program. As with indoor air quality, we have the tools; we have the skills; we have the needs. Let’s ensure violence-free, healthy and safe schools for us and for students. If we lead as we have in so many areas, communities will follow, and our world will be safer.
Lynne Sinclair is the BCTF staffperson assigned to health and safety.