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Increased protection for Ontario workers


July 14, 2010
By Dave Harrison

July 14, 2010 –
As employers in Ontario, regardless of size, farmers need to know that they are
all now required to have policies on workplace violence and harassment.

July 14, 2010 – Ontario farming consists of
thousands of small and medium sized enterprises that employ many more
thousands
of people on our farms.

As employers in Ontario, regardless of size, farmers need to know that
they are
all now required to have policies on workplace violence and
harassment. Those with five or more employees must have
copies of the policy posted in a conspicuous place within the worksite.

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Bill 168 Ontario Health and Safety
Act
amendments have just come into force putting the new policy into
action.
Employers can have a number of issues to consider when setting out a
workplace
violence policy. Some of the considerations could include:

• Does it apply to all
employees.

• Should it apply to contractors.

• Should it apply to visitors and
guests.

• Will it apply at social functions.

• Will it also apply outside the
workplace.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour has
provided guidelines respecting workplace violence and harassment. The
Guidelines can be found on the Ministry of Labour website . It has also
provided
some indication of what they would find acceptable when inspecting for
compliance with the Act and its amendments.

The obligations of all parties in
the workplace – employer, managers, supervisors and workers – should be
detailed on the posted policy. Reprisals against anyone initiating a
complaint
under the Act must be considered unacceptable. The posted policy should
outline
definitions of reprisal or retaliation.

A workplace violence risk
assessment may precede or follow the statement of policy on workplace
violence
prevention – something the employer is responsible for doing. Neither
the Bill
nor the Ministry of Labour guidelines provide specific direction on who
is
responsible for assessing associated risks for these matters. This
leaves it
open to internal staff or an external party to perform the assessment – a
management decision of the farmer as the employer.

A number of matters have to be
considered under the Act – the nature of the workplace, the type of
work, and
the conditions of work. The nature of the workplace would consider
everything
from lighting to equipment and placement of objects within the
workplace. The
type of work would look at everything from handling cash to protecting
valuables, to contact with the public. The conditions of work are also
viewed
as a factor of risk – those working late at night or early in the
morning are
considered at greater risk.

Employers, as part of the
assessments, may consider surveying the workforce regarding past
incidents of
workplace violence. Because Bill 168 or the associated Guidelines don’t
provide
a requirement to conduct a survey of workers, it is a decision of the
owner of
the business.

The Guidelines recommend that
employers review the risk assessment at least annually as a means of
identifying and correcting deficiencies.

The
training obligation imposed by Bill 168 may present a difficult
compliance
hurdle for employers, both in terms of the logistics of training the
entire workforce and in determining
what information and instruction must be provided. Because workers must
be
trained on the program – specific to their workplace – generic training
on Bill
168 will not meet the legislated training obligation.

It would
be wise for employers to seek guidance from the Ontario Farm Safety Association (800-361-8855) in
Guelph and perhaps even legal counsel when facing a
situation involving workplace violence or harassment.


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