Workplace Violence and Harassment – A Call to Action

Almost one in every five violent incidents in Canada happen at work, this troublesome statistic was the focal point of a recent report published by the Canadian Standards Association. The report entitled Preventing Violence and Harassment in Canadian Workplaces focused on four sectors:

  • Education

  • Government and Emergency Services

  • Healthcare

  • Service

These sectors are recognized as having the highest rates of workplace violence and harassment incidents often leading to injuries and lost time claims. The Canadian Standards Association has taken a big step in the right direction by releasing its report, full details of which can be found here. 

Workplace violence and harassment incidents have been recognized by the International Labour Organization as a human rights violation and they pose a threat to the well-being of everyone. It’s obvious that this is a serious issue, it’s also a growing issue, so where are we going wrong?

It should be emphasized that efforts have been made by various organizations and sectors to incorporate programs and legislation which aim to address workplace violence and harassment. In fact, ten of the thirteen provinces and territories currently have legislation in place, but this legislation only meets the minimum standards. Additionally, there are several factors that are acting as barriers, including program implementation, lack of guidance and inadequate staffing and infrastructure. To further complicate the matter there is no one size fits all solution between the various sectors as each has its own unique challenges, for example, sexual harassment is a major concern within the service sector, whereas physical and verbal violence ranks high in healthcare.  

Taking the above into consideration, the report aimed to:

  • Determine the degree of the problem of workplace violence and harassment in Canada

  • Investigate the availability of related resources

  • Identify gaps in prevention and mitigation

  • Deliberate the need for a national standard

The conclusions were based on reviewing both literature and legislation to get a thorough understanding of existing standards, practices, tools and knowledge. This was done at the provincial, federal and international levels. Additionally, fifteen stakeholders from across Canada, representing the four sectors shared their knowledge and insight through participating in surveys and interviews.

The findings concluded that workplace violence and harassment is a sizeable concern across jurisdictions and sectors. Although many stakeholders indicated that the legislation in place is clear and that there are ample resources available, many stated that there is a need for more support in the implementation of programming and policies. Several gaps were uncovered in the report, these were lack of direction in managing harassment, the development and implementation of programming, lack of accountability within leadership, and how to ensure worker consultation and participation. Differences in the definition of workplace violence and harassment, as well as ineffective solutions to incidents, were also noted as challenges.

With respect to having a national standard, the report found that the majority of stakeholders were in favour as it would provide clarity, expectations and cohesion to workplace violence and harassment prevention. It was noted by some stakeholders that including sector-specific terms would be ideal and that there is a need for leadership training and competence. One concern that came up regarding a national standard was whether it would be useful if it is not enforceable through legislation.

Overall it is clear that there is much work to be done on the prevention of workplace violence and harassment within Canada and worldwide. This is an issue that affects us all.  The Canadian Standards Association has taken a big step in the right direction by releasing its report, full details of which can be found here. 

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