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WorkSafeNB wants to hear from you about your experience with workplace violence

MIKE LANDRY TELEGRAPH-JOURNAL

SAINT JOHN • On Aug. 24, 2016, according to court records, a patient at the Saint John Regional Hospital emergency department threatened to kill Dr. James French and harm his family. The offender was arrested, charged and the sentencing judge denied a request for a discharge, saying it was “a serious matter” to threaten a doctor administering care.  

French says he’s “pretty lucky” with Horizon Health Network to have supports in place for workplace violence. But that not every employer in the province is proactive and not every employee is as protected.

As the province looks to legislate regulations for dealing with workplace violence, WorkSafeNB is asking for employers and employees to weigh in on what kind of law they’d like to see in place.

The public consultation consists of a five-page online survey available at: www.worksafenb.ca/Stakeholder-engagement#vio.  

The consultation includes questions about:

• What employees should be protected by the legislation

• Whether violence should include harassment or extend to bullying

• Whether risk assessments be required, including a review of past incidents

• Whether internal policies are required, including for reporting violence, documenting instances and post-incident care.

French says he’s worked in emergency departments around the world where firearms teams are deployed once a month, and says verbal and physical aggression is “almost an inevitable part of the job.”

In response, he says he’s undertaken self-defence and self-protection training, and is now a certified instructor.

“Dealing with these incidents is 99 per cent behaviour and any training you get, the more resilient you can be to handle things in a calm professional way,” says French. “Anything that we do to make our teams more resilient and improve workers safety is obviously a positive thing.”

For now, New Brunswick is the only province without workplace violence legislation to any extent. Last month, the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour announced its plans to develop regulations by April 2018. WorkSafeNB is one of the main stakeholders government said it intends to have weigh in on the new law.

Richard Blais, WorkSafeNB’s director of compliance and regulatory review, says a public consultation is needed to make sure no businesses are caught off-guard by what a new law could require once passed.

“If the legislative final outcome is to impact all workplaces our intent is definitely to reach far and wide,” says Blais.

One question Blais is hoping the consultation might help to answer is the extent of concern over workplace harassment in the province. He says much is already known about the reality of physical violence in health care, education and correctional services, but harassment is only rarely reported to WorkSafeNB.

“We are aware it’s happening, sure, but how much is it happening? We can’t say as much.”

Paula Doucet, president of New Brunswick Nurses’ Union, says she would like the consultation to be just the first part of a public awareness campaign about the legislation. No matter how strong the looming law is, she says it alone won’t make a workplace safer.

“It’s about implementation and the fact that there’s going to have to be a long-term commitment to awareness,” says Doucet.

During her 13 years as a nurse, Doucet says she was cursed at, spit on, kicked and punched, and saw her co-workers face the same. The union, she says, is encouraging all of its members to contribute to the consultation.

“It’s a mindset and societal shift that needs to happen. (Violence) is not part of the job.”

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