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Nurses have ‘sense of relief’ over worker protection legislation

SARAH SEELEY TIMES & TRANSCRIPT — Friday, October 20, 2017

Tears of joy come to Maria Richard’s eyes when she thinks about the future of nursing in New Brunswick.

Paula Doucet, the president of the New Brunswick Nurses’ Union, addressed a room full of nurses for the union’s annual general meeting and announced an amendment to the Occupational Health and Safety regulations to recognize violence as a workplace hazard.

Richard, the union’s first vice-president, has been working as a nurse in New Brunswick for over 30 years. She has heard many stories from nurses who have been victims of physical and verbal violence during their shifts.

She said she is excited for the new legislation that will serve to protect nurses and other workers in the province.

“For me it’s that sense of relief that at least there’s a law.”

Richard said if a nurse gets injured in the workplace because of violence, then it is not considered a workplace hazard, which means it is not covered by WorkSafe New Brunswick and they often use their sick days if they have to stay home and recover.

When the amendment is put in place, violence will be considered a workplace hazard. Labour, Employment and Population Growth Minister Gilles LePage said in a release the goal is to have these changes in place by April 28 – the National Day of Mourning for those who have suffered injury, illness or death on the job.

In a news release earlier this week, officials with the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour announced plans to work with labour unions, WorkSafeNB and other stakeholders to develop new regulations to promote workers’ rights and prevent workplace violence, and to conduct research that will help government better understand the issue.

At the news conference before the annual general meeting. Doucet said it has been one year since the NBNU held a press conference calling for the government to recognize violence as a work place hazard.

NBNU looks forward to further collaboration with the government as they continue to develop the necessary programs and implement resources to help educate and protect not only registered nurses, but all workers in this province,” she said.

Her statement caused a standing ovation by the nurses at the conference.

Doucet said she and Patrick Colford, the president of New Brunswick Federation Of Labour, met on Thursday to get the ball rolling on amending the legislation.

“We’ll be looking at meeting quite frequently with government and labour committee to ensure the proper wording is put in place.”

After the legislation is finalized, risk assessments will be done to analyse past incidents so prevention programs can be created to prevent violence from happening, said Doucet.

Richard told the Times & Transcript after the press conference that the risk assessments are an important step for nurses.

“If you don’t do the risk assessment you’re not going to be able to see where there is potential for violence.”

She said there are researchers from the union comparing legislation from other provinces while the amendment is being worked on.

“I’m hoping we’ll put it together and we will be able to say that in New Brunswick we have the best law against violence in the workplace.”

Richard said the fact that violence is not considered a workplace hazard may have deterred some people from becoming nurses.

It also added to the atmosphere of tolerance of violence in hospitals. Over the past 10 years, nurses have started to question the regulations, said Richard.

“Nurses are starting to say ‘enough is enough,” she said. “I should not be kicked. I should not be spit on.”

When the Occupational Health and Safety regulation is amended, Richard said she hopes the nursing culture will start to change.

“New nurses will have the frame of mind that it is no tolerance,” she said. “If there are issues they will be able to report it so we can prevent it.”

– With files from Adam Bowie

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