The Tsunami of Security Issues!

Employee Security: How Far should you go? Are you doing enough?

business man stop violence concept background
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Click here to read the article on employee security.

Concerns regarding employee security have been building for years since Lori Dupont’s murder in her Ontario Workplace.

 Click here to read an article about this case.

Violence in the workplace legislation such as Bill 168 have been implemented, and now there is greater emphasizes on the courts to be less tolerant of employers who do not meet their minimal workplace security legal obligations.

Click here to read the legislation Bill 168.

All employers must take warning, the courts are giving clear direction on how far reaching an employers’ obligations is in for the prevention of violence in the workplace. The Ministry of Labour laid five charges against an Ontario mental health centre in relation to the security and the prevention of violence in the workplace and a ruling has been rendered:

“A mental health centre must install a new electronic alarm system at its site as well as provide improved employee training and hire properly trained security personnel who will be present 24/7.”

What the Union is saying about this case:

“For the first time in Ontario history, a quasi-judicial body has confirmed that security personnel have a role to play on a health care team,” he said. “This is an extremely significant conclusion, not just for Brockville Mental Health Centre, but for mental health care facilities across the province.”

The employer has been ordered to install security systems but also to hire security guards. So the tsunami is here and rightfully so: all employees deserve not to be exposed to workplace violence.

But why is this ruling so unusual? The courts have told an organization that they must hire specific employees, in this case security guards. This has an impact on an organization’s HR and staffing budgets. Usually workplace H&S violations result in fines and the organization must decide on its own on the direction it must take to comply. The courts in this case were very directive on what was required to ensure the prevention of violence in the workplace, and it requires the funding of more security guards.

As with most employment matters it is always better to pave your own path rather than having a third party or the courts order what you must do. It is clear in Ontario that employers must take workplace violence prevention as seriously as society and our courts are.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Please explain the value of conducting a violence in the workplace risk assessment.
  2. Research a tool that you could use to conduct a violence in the workplace risk assessment. Why did you pick that tool, and what value does it have to an organization?

Stress or Distress Which Is It?

When is stress good for your productivity?

Businessman stressed out at work in casual office
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Stress, stressors, burnout, and conflict, these words are all too common in the workplace every day. There has been a lot of organizational research stating that stress in the workplace is killing us! But is it really? Maybe workplace stress is really not as bad as we believe it is.

Watch this video from Harvard Business Review, click here to open the link.

This video sums up a performance concept called the Yerkes Dodson Law, where an individual’s performance is based on a certain amount of stress.

The Yerkers Dodson Law states that stress is a variable and if there is not enough stress your performance may not reach a peak, if you have too much stress your performance will decrease. The amount of workplace stress an individual may feel is also dependent on the type of work being done. Some stress does help us focus and get things accomplished, especially if the work is not simulating. However, the reverse is true, if the work is complicated: too much stress will reduce your workplace performance.

The word stress does have a bad rap in the workplace, but perhaps we should chose more appropriate language to explain our feelings. At work we should use the word stress if it adds or sharpens our performance and use the word distress when the psychological pressure leads to poorer or impaired performance.

Like many things at work it will help if the HR department has a solid understanding of what can affect an individual or an organizations performance. We should not just use the word stress when we are feeling overwhelmed, but analyze all aspects before giving the emotional feeling a label.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Think about the last time you had a project at school or a task at work to complete and you felt stressed out? Was it stress or was it distress that you were feeling? Did the stress help you perform better or worst on the project or task?
  2. How would you present this concept of the Yerkers Dodson Law to a workplace that was saying it was stressed out?
  3. Research to see if there are any workplace stress tests that would be valuable for you to administer in the workplace as an HR practitioner

Heat Stress: We Are all Susceptible!

Employee sweating in a warm office
Minerva Studio/Shutterstock

How to ensure safety in the extreme heat.

May 5, 2016 started out like any other school day in Winnipeg, but something was different, very different, and unusual; actually it was the first time in 90 years that it happened.

What was this unusual activity that occurred on that fateful May 5? It was the temperature! It soared to 34 degrees Celsius in parts of Manitoba. According to the Winnipeg Free Press:

“The province slapped restrictions on activities in the Spruce Woods Provincial Park and the Spruce Woods Provincial Forest …. all back country travel and access to remote cottage areas must be approved by a travel permit issued at the discretion of local conservation officers.”

The provincial government was concerned about high temperatures on that day, so much so that they ordered restrictions on certain activities in provincial parks, however, many of these restrictions were to reduce the risk of forests fires, it certainly was not to warn everyday citizens, or workers about possible risk of death.

To read the complete article click here.

Perhaps not enough thought was put into the possible deadly effects of heat stress, because on that day a 40 year old high school teacher on a field trip to Spruce Woods Provincial Park fainted and died. Although the root cause of her death is still under investigation at the time of this writing, there are reasons to believe that heat stress may have played part in this workplace fatality.

In our workplaces there is a very poor understanding of the possible health effects of extreme temperatures in this case heat. Most workplace H&S legislation in Canada does not specifically address extreme temperatures, but all have a general duty clause where employers must take every reasonable precaution to prevent illness, injury or death of its employees.

In all cases where workers are exposed to extreme temperatures there is a reasonable obligation of employers to conduct a risk assessment to measure the potential health risk. In most cases with respect to heat stress, employers fail to take a proactive position. A heat stress policy and plan is required to make workers aware of the dangers and the control measure of heat stress.

Click here to download WorkSafe Guide to Preventing Heat Stress.

It would be beneficial if workers and employers in Canada took the effects of heat stress seriously and have a heat stress control plan in place in every work setting.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Review your provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, does it set out maximum and minimum temperatures limits. If yes what are they?  If no, why not?
  2. Develop a heat stress policy, including what measures and tools you are recommending to measure heat stress, remember to include temperature and humidity.
  3. Research what is a work/rest schedule for heat stress, and comment on why employers may be reluctant to implement one in the workplace.

Understanding the Impact of Poor Health and Safety

Horizontal view of depressed young woman crying
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Picture this: You are a manager of a medium-size manufacturing company. The company is big enough to be considered a significant employer but small enough for you to have personal connections with all employees and some of their families.

It is 4:30 pm which is almost quitting time for the afternoon shift. You have just been called out to the shipping and receiving area. It is chaos. A large shelving unit has collapsed and it is clear there is a worker trapped beneath it who will not survive. It is traumatic for everyone to watch.

Once the initial first medical response has been implemented the ministry of labour arrives on site to do an inspection of the accident. Everything else is in limbo and the night shift workers have been called to cancel their shift.

Here is where it gets really difficult.

As you walk back to your office you ask the HR department to get the employee’s home phone number. The employee’s file is given to you. Everything moves in slow motion, you can smell the dust coming off the file, you take the file and immediately feel a sharp stinging, you are not sure if it is your hand or your heart. It is like a message is being sent to you, this moment, this call, will change your life forever.

As the direct supervisor you have been given the task of making the call to inform the employee’s spouse that her husband will not be coming home tonight or ever again. You pick up the phone and dial the number. A small voice answers, it is the employee’s daughter who has just been picked up from kindergarten. You ask to speak to her mother.

You know that little girl’s life has been changed forever! She may never even remember the sound of her father’s voice, the touch of his hand. Your eyes well up as you take a deep breath. You have no idea what you are going to say next,

“Stephanie, there has been an accident ….,” nothing more has to be said.

Stephanie knows that the last time she saw her husband was over their morning coffee together, the ritual which they have had since they were married.

Click here to read about the Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada

Recently, Canadian Electrocoating Ltd. pleaded guilty to a violation of the Ontario Health and Safety Act and was fined $175,000. This fine in no way represents the true cost of an employee fatality at work. Emotions, sadness and despair: these are the true costs of a workplace fatality. Nothing will ever be the same to anyone who knew or worked with the employee who was killed in the workplace.

Click here to read an article about the fine

Every occupational health and safety act in Canada outlines the duties and responsibilities of employers, supervisors and workers. All of these acts are clear that the employer is responsible and must be diligent in ensuring worker safety. Unfortunately, all stake holders fail in their duties and responsibilities at least 1000 times per year in Canada, resulting in these tragic workplace fatalities.

If you are a planning on becoming a Human Resources, Health and Safety professional or a supervisor, you must ask yourself, do I know my duties and responsibilities?

Most importantly, you must ask yourself, what do I have to do to ensure a safe workplace so I never have to make that call?

Discussion Questions:

  1. You have been hired in a manufacturing company that has a poorly developed safety program. You have asked to meet with the stakeholders: management, supervisors and union members to discuss the current obstacles to health and safety improvements in the plant.
  2. What types of obstacles do you anticipate from each of the stakeholders?
  3. What kind of support do you need from each stakeholder in order to change the safety program?