Workplace violence: anticipating bear repellant and other hazards

Apr 02, 2012

Workplace violence: anticipating bear repellant and other hazardsRecently, a would-be thief assaulted the owner of a computer store in St. Catharines with bear repellant, a form of pepper spray. An accomplice also punched an employee in the head as the thieves were escaping with store merchandise. Police eventually arrested two people, but in the interim the store owner and two employees sustained minor injuries from the spray and required treatment for eye and skin irritations.

Violence in the workplace occurs more often than you may think. Almost 1 in 5 violent incidents in Canada occurs at work.1

While it may be human nature to try to stop a violent act from being committed, you could be putting yourself and others at risk. What’s the right thing to do? This depends on the nature of the risks. (If robbery is a risk, see below “What the Toronto Police Service recommends” for quick tips.)

In June 2010, Bill 168, An Act to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to violence and harassment in the workplace and other matters, came into effect. The legislation requires Ontario workplaces to have prevention policies, programs and procedures in place.

To help workplaces comply with the Act, and help keep their workers safe, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services (WSPS) and other Ontario prevention system partners produced a comprehensive set of resources (see “How WSPS can help”). A brief overview of the issue and basic prevention measures follows.

Who’s at risk

Workers are at greater risk of violence if their activities involve

  • contact with clients
  • working with unstable or volatile clients
  • working alone or in small numbers
  • working in a community-based setting
  • handling cash
  • mobile workplaces
  • working in high crime areas
  • securing/protecting valuables
  • transporting people and/or goods

For workers in the services sector, interactions with the public often pose the greatest risk. In contrast, workers in the manufacturing sector may be at greater risk from co-workers. In any organization, domestic violence that crosses over into the workplace is another risk that must be taken into consideration.

How violence could affect your operations

Violence can exact a heavy toll on organizations and their employees.

Harm to Organizational Culture

Harm to the Bottom Line

  • Harm to image, reputation
  • Difficulty with employee recruitment, training and retention
  • Reduced morale and productivity
  • Strained management-employee relations
  • Workplace injuries
  • Absenteeism and sick leave
  • Employee turnover
  • Employee assistance program costs
  • Short-term/long-term disability and drug plan costs

What the legislation requires

Among the requirements, employers must

  • assess the risk of violence
  • prepare workplace policies for both violence and harassment
  • develop an implementation program, including control measures/procedures, such as
    • employee reporting
    • incident and complaint investigation
    • emergency response for violence incidents
  • create a process for responding to complaints and threats

Three success factors in preventing violence in your workplace

  • Involve your people in assessing the risk of violence. They’re on the front lines and the shop floor, among all workplace parties may be at greatest risk, and often have the best ideas for improving their personal safety.
  • Provide training and information in frequent, bite-sized chunks. Prepare your staff to quickly recognize potentially violent situations, and deflect or defuse them. Keeping the training and information simple will help workers retain and apply what they’ve learned. Reinforce learning through ongoing communications (e.g., payroll notices, staff newsletter articles…) and refresher training.
  • Seek input from your trusted advisors. Speak with a consultant about conducting a risk assessment and developing or enhancing your violence and harassment prevention program, sign up for courses, view pre-recorded webinars, and attend related conference sessions. See “How WSPS can help.”

What the Toronto Police Service recommends2

If your business is being robbed, here’s what the Toronto Police Service advises:

  • During a robbery
    • Remain calm
    • Obey the robber's commands
    • Do not antagonize the robber
    • Consider all firearms to be loaded
    • Look at the robbers - notice details to aid you in describing them and their mannerisms. Note age, weight, height, clothing, tattoos or scars
    • Take note of the weapon
    • Watch the direction the robbers take. If they use a vehicle, try to note the license plate number
  • After a robbery
    • Call the police immediately. Dial 911
    • Give your name, telephone number and the address of the hold-up
    • Give a description of the suspect(s), direction of travel, and a license number if a vehicle was used
    • Advise whether or not weapons were used
    • Protect the crime scene. Keep customers or other employees away from the area of the store where the robbery occurred
    • Ask witnesses to wait until the police arrive
    • Lock the door until the police arrive
    • Do not touch anything
    • Save any notes that were used. Do not handle them or let others handle them
    • Cooperate with the police

How WSPS can help

View available resources on the Health & Safety Ontario website

1 Criminal Victimization in the Workplace, Statistics Canada, February 2007. Victimization in the Workplace (Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series)

2 Source: