As we have learned in our Health and Safety studies, the employer must investigate when there is a workplace incident that causes harm or potential harm to any employee.
If we follow the path of incident investigation it is triggered by an action in the workplace. This action is an accident or incident that results in a worker injury or a near-miss which may have caused an injury to a worker. When there is an accident or incident that causes injury to the worker, this is usually categorized as a ‘lost-time injury’ as the worker can not attend to her or his work related duties due to the injuries sustained by the workplace accident or incident.
The incident investigation path is based on prescriptive, step-by-step procedures that are outlined in respective provincial occupational health and safety regulations. Typically, accidents, incidents and near-misses fall in the category of physical harm to the worker. However, with an increased awareness of the impact of psycho-social workplace harm we are starting to see incident investigations arising out of allegations of workplace bullying.
Recently, WorkSafe BC implemented an incident investigation into the Vancouver School Board as a result of toxic workplace allegations.
As we note from reading this particular case, the investigation by WorkSafe BC arises from the fact that the workers (school board senior administrative staff) are absent from work for medical leave. The medical leave arises from allegations of toxic workplace conduct causing harm to the workers in the form of psychological abuse. The allegations of workplace conduct are cited as bullying and harassing behaviours which may be considered the incident or accident in this case. Even though this is a psychological claim, the result is the same as a physical injury resulting in an employee not being able to attend to work for medical reasons.
While this case is played out in the public domain we must acknowledge that we do not have all of the facts related to these issues as we await the outcome of the investigation.
In the meantime the learning that comes from this very unfortunate situation is that harm to workers is not always limited to physical injury when a workplace incident occurs.
- How does this case reflect the concept that the mind and the body are connected?
- What steps would you take, as the Health and Safety professional, if you were required to investigate this case?
- Reflecting on your work experience so far, have you seen evidence of workplace behaviour resulting in a physical reaction (illness) on the part of an employee? What happened? What advice would you give an employee based on your health and safety learning to date?