Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help the workplace parties understand some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and regulations. It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations. For further information please see full disclaimer.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out the general duties for an
These general duties also apply to workplace violence [section 32.0.5].
See A Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act for more information about these duties as well as the duties of other workplace parties such as constructors, licensees and owners.
Every employer in Ontario must prepare and review, at least annually, a policy on workplace violence, as required by the OHSA [section 32.0.1(1)(a) and (c)].
This policy is required regardless of the size of the workplace or the number of workers.
If six or more workers are regularly employed at a workplace, this policy must be in writing and posted in a conspicuous place in the workplace.
If fewer than six workers are regularly employed at the workplace, the policy does not necessarily have to be written [sections 32.0.1(2) and (3)]. However, a Ministry of Labour inspector may order the policy to be in writing [section 55.1].
The workplace violence policy should:
See Section 5 for an example to help you develop your workplace violence policy.
Yes, as long as all of the requirements for the policy and program are complied with.
Yes, as long as all the requirements for the policies are complied with. Employers may choose to combine the workplace violence policy with a policy required by the Act for workplace harassment or occupational health and safety.
Under the OHSA, the employer has a number of responsibilities for assessing the risks of workplace violence.
The employer must:
The employer must advise the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative of the assessment results. If the assessment is in writing, the employer must provide a copy to the committee or the representative [section 32.0.3(3)(a)].
If there is no committee or representative, the employer must advise workers of the assessment results. If the assessment is in writing, the employer must provide copies to workers on request or advise the workers how to obtain copies [section 32.0.3(3)(b)].
Employers must repeat the assessment as often as necessary to ensure the workplace violence policy and related program continue to protect workers from workplace violence [section 32.0.3(4)] and inform the joint health and safety committee, health and safety representative, or workers of the results of the re-assessment [section 32.0.3(5)].
The nature of the workplace refers to the physical aspects of the workplace, whether it is a building, construction site, vehicle, or forest. This may include workplace lighting, lines of sight, depth of counters, entrances, exits and objects that could be used to hurt workers.
The type of work refers to the activities workers perform (such as handling cash), the sector of work (such as health care) and people with whom workers interact (such as customers, clients or patients).
The conditions of work refers to other aspects such as hours worked, the surrounding neighbourhood and whether workers move from location to location, work alone or in isolation.
Circumstances specific to the workplace could include:
A number of activities or circumstances may increase the risk of workplace violence. These include:
A specific workplace may not have experienced a violent incident, but may share risks of workplace violence with similar workplaces.
The risk of violence may be higher in certain sectors such as health care, social services, retail, hospitality, education, transportation, police, security and correctional facilities.
Similar workplaces may also have activities or work conditions in common.
See above for a list of circumstances or activities that may increase the risk of workplace violence.
An assessment of the risks of workplace violence should be specific to the workplace.
A similar type of work may be performed in multiple locations. However, the assessment must take into account the nature of the workplace and conditions of work. Each location should be assessed for its own unique risks of workplace violence in addition to the common risks.
For example, a company may operate many retail stores, all providing the same services. However, each store would have a unique location, surroundings and clientele, etc. In addition, the stores may have different interior physical layouts, equipment or hours of operation.
So, even though the risks of workplace violence for the services provided may be similar, each store may have different risks specific to its particular location.
An assessment may not be able to take into account the specific risks related to the nature of every workplace that a mobile worker may visit.
However, the assessment should take into account risks associated with the worker’s vehicle. It should also consider risks associated with the type of work and work conditions. For example, a salesperson carrying valuable stock could be at risk for robbery.
The workplace violence program must have measures and procedures in place to control the risks faced by mobile workers.
The OHSA does not require an employer to proactively assess the risks of violence between individual workers. It could be difficult for the employer to predict when violence may occur between individual workers
However, a review of incidents or threats of violence from all sources may indicate the origins of workplace violence and likelihood of violence between workers at a particular workplace.
The risks of workplace violence should be re-assessed as often as is necessary to protect workers from workplace violence. For example, a reassessment should be undertaken if:
It is recommended the employer review the assessment at least annually.
In addition to preparing a workplace violence policy and assessing the risks of workplace violence, under the OHSA every employer must develop and maintain a program to implement the workplace violence policy [section 32.0.2].
The program must include:
The workplace violence program may incorporate or reference existing programs, procedures or protocols related to workplace violence. For example, there could be existing procedures for emergency situations, incident reporting or personal safety.
See Section 6 for more information on the types of measures and procedures that could be part of a workplace violence program.
The measures and procedures in a workplace violence program must address the risks and conditions specific to that workplace.
While a program from a similar workplace may be used as the basis for a new program, it would need to be tailored to fit the workplace where it would be used and based on the results of the assessment for that specific workplace.
For example, a chain of retail outlets could develop a general workplace violence program with measures to control the risks common to all of the stores. The general program could also include standard emergency, reporting, and investigation measures and procedures. However, each location would need to modify the general program based on site-specific risks and conditions to ensure there are appropriate measures and procedures to protect workers.
Yes. While no specific measures or procedures may be needed to control risks, a workplace violence program would still be required because it would need to provide measures and procedures for:
If new risks are identified after the initial assessment, the employer would need to modify the workplace violence program to include appropriate measures and procedures.
Under the OHSA the employer must maintain the workplace violence program [section 32.0.2(1)].
It is recommended the program be reviewed at least annually. This review should focus on the effectiveness of the measures and procedures in the program. This is to ensure they are being used and are continuing to protect workers from workplace violence.
A review or revision of a workplace violence program should be undertaken if:
Under the OHSA, an employer must provide appropriate information and instruction to workers on the contents of the workplace violence policy and program [section 32.0.5(2)].
All workers should be aware of the employer’s workplace violence policy and program. Workers should:
Supervisors may need additional information or instruction, especially if they are going to follow up on reported incidents or complaints of workplace violence. For example, supervisors may need to know about how to respond sensitively to incidents or complaints of workplace violence, which in some cases could include sexual violence.
Under the OHSA, an employer has a general duty to provide information, instruction and supervision to protect a worker [section 25(2)(a)].
A supervisor has a duty to advise workers of any actual or potential occupational health and safety dangers of which the supervisor is aware [section 27(2)(a)].
To protect workers, the employer must tailor the type and amount of information and instruction to the specific job and the associated risks of workplace violence.
Workers in jobs with a higher risk of violence may require more frequent or intensive instruction or specialized training.
An employer should identify what information, instruction or training is needed when a worker is hired. This should be done by taking into account hazards associated with each specific job as well as the measures and procedures that are in place.
Similarly, the employer should identify what information, instruction or training is needed when a worker changes jobs.
Workplace violence can be covered along with other occupational health and safety topics, including workplace harassment, or it can be covered separately.
Employers should also identify how often instruction or training should be repeated. This may be done:
The OHSA clarifies that employers and supervisors must provide workers with information, including personal information, related to a risk of workplace violence from a person with a history of violent behaviour [section 32.0.5(3)].
However, this duty is limited and applies only when the:
Employers and supervisors must also not disclose more information than is reasonably necessary for the protection of a worker from physical injury.
Employers would have to evaluate the circumstances of a person’s history of violent behaviour and determine which workers would be likely to encounter this person in the course of their work and whether the person poses a risk to those workers.
Some factors to consider include:
Not necessarily. An employer would first have to determine which workers, if any, would be likely during the course of their work to encounter the violent person and if the risk of workplace violence was likely to expose the worker to physical injury [section 32.0.5(3)].
Depending on the results, the employer would not have to provide a worker with specific information about the violent person if the worker was:
Under the OHSA, employers and supervisors must disclose as much information about a person with a history of violent behaviour as needed to protect workers from physical injury while respecting privacy as much as possible [sections 32.0.5(3) and (4)].
For example, the information disclosed should allow workers to identify the person with the violent history and, if appropriate, the triggers of his/her potential aggression.
Only personal information that is necessary to protect the worker from physical injury should be disclosed.
For example, a waitress or construction worker should be told if there is person with a history of hitting workers at that workplace and what the triggers are for that person’s violent behaviour. However, the worker would not necessarily need to know all the personal information the employer has about the person with the violent history.
In workplaces where the risk of workplace violence is similar from many people, such as in correctional institutions, it may be appropriate to provide general information about these risks as part of the information and instruction given to workers under section 25(2)(a).
However, in these types of workplaces, workers may require information about a specific individual’s history of violent behaviour so workers are aware of the specific risks [section 32.0.5(3)].
There may be other laws that govern the release of personal or medical information such as the:
The employer will have to take into account a person’s right to privacy under those laws in addition to a worker’s right to be informed of workplace violence risks under the OHSA.
In such cases, employers may wish to seek legal advice.
In most situations, it should be possible to provide workers with enough information to protect them without disclosing personal medical information.
In cases where an employer or supervisor feels personal medical information should be disclosed to a worker, the employer may wish to obtain legal advice about possible implications under human rights or privacy legislation.
The OHSA does not require employers or supervisors to do criminal background checks or to otherwise seek out information on workers or other people who are likely to be in the workplace.
Under the OHSA, an employer must take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers when they are aware, or ought reasonably to be aware, that domestic violence may occur in the workplace, and that it would likely expose a worker to physical injury [section 32.0.4].
Domestic violence may put the targeted worker at risk, and may also pose a threat to co-workers.
Measures and procedures in the workplace violence program can help protect workers from domestic violence in the workplace. For example, measures for the summoning of immediate assistance or for reporting of violent incidents could help protect workers from domestic violence when it may occur in the workplace.
Workers should be told that they can report their concerns to their employer if they fear domestic violence may enter the workplace.
Employers must be prepared to investigate and deal with these concerns on a case-by-case basis.
In addition to evaluating a worker’s specific circumstances, employers should determine how measures and procedures in the existing workplace violence program could be used to support the development of reasonable precautions for the worker.
This could involve creating an individual safety plan for the worker while he or she is in the workplace. The safety plan should be developed in consultation with the targeted worker.
In developing the plan, the employer and worker may be able to work with the police, courts, or other organizations who may already be involved.
When a worker and his or her spouse work at the same organization, and there are concerns about domestic violence occurring in the workplace, the employer should follow the workplace violence policy and program in dealing with the abusive worker’s behaviour.
An employer may become aware of domestic violence when an incident takes place at the workplace or when a concern is reported by a targeted worker, co-workers or someone else.
Other indicators could include threatening emails and phone calls received at work or unwelcome visits at the workplace such as by an abusive partner.
Even if a worker does not want any steps taken, the employer may still be required to take some action to protect the targeted worker and other workers, depending on the circumstances.
The employer should work closely with the targeted worker to develop reasonable precautions to address the situation while attempting to respect the worker’s privacy and sensitivity of the issue.
The OHSA does not require an employer to assess the risk of domestic violence occurring in a workplace.
However, an employer may wish to conduct a review of violent incidents or threats of violence from all sources. This may help the employer determine origins of workplace violence and the likelihood violence will occur at a particular workplace.
Under the OHSA, a worker can refuse to work if he or she has reason to believe he or she may be endangered by workplace violence [section 43(3)(b.1)]. However, work cannot be refused on the grounds of workplace harassment.
The act sets out a specific procedure that must be followed in a work refusal. It is important for workers, employers, supervisors, joint health and safety committees, and health and safety representatives to understand and follow this procedure.
As discussed in Section 2.4 of this guide, the workplace violence program must include measures and procedures for workers to report workplace violence incidents and for employers to investigate and deal with those incidents or complaints.
These measures can help workers, supervisors and employers address workplace violence concerns before they escalate to work refusals.
Yes, but for some workers the right to refuse work for any reason, including for workplace violence, is limited.
Certain workers who protect public safety cannot refuse work if:
These workers are:
In addition, teachers cannot refuse work when a pupil’s life, health or safety is in imminent jeopardy [section 3(3) of Regulation 857 (Teachers)].
See A Guide to the Occupational Health and Safety Act for more information on work refusals.
A worker must remain in a safe place as near as reasonably possible to his or her workstation while waiting for the employer to investigate [section 43(5)] or for the Ministry of Labour to investigate [section 43(10)].
The location will depend on the circumstances that led to the work refusal.
Employers may wish to develop workplace-specific procedures for work refusals related to workplace violence, including where a safe place would be. These workplace-specific procedures must be consistent with the work refusal provisions in the OHSA.
Yes, if it is (or can be reasonably interpreted to be) a threat to exercise force that could cause physical injury to the worker. Where a worker receives a threat that does not cause him/her to fear for his/her personal safety, the worker should use the procedures in the workplace violence or harassment program to report the incident to his or her employer.
Although section 43 allows workers to refuse to work or do particular work if their health and safety is in danger due to workplace violence, this does not mean all work needs to be suspended during a work refusal.
For example, if the risk of workplace violence is eliminated by the removal of a violent person, it may be possible for work to continue during the employer’s investigation.
A worker who has reason to believe that he or she is likely endangered by workplace violence always has the right to refuse work (subject to limitations on the right to refuse work for specific categories of workers).
An employer with a good workplace violence policy and program, supported by equipment, training and effective communication, should have established methods for immediately dealing with violent and potentially violent incidents. For example, an employer may direct workers to call the police for assistance when they have immediate safety concerns due to workplace violence.
Having these internal procedures in place may be the best way to prevent further danger and to protect workers and members of the public (in sectors such as the transit industry, for example). This does not limit a worker’s right to refuse work. However, because the danger to workers is dealt with quickly, a worker may not need to refuse work in these circumstances.
Whether there is a work refusal or not, workers should report an incident of workplace violence to their employer or supervisor. The employer needs to investigate and take any steps necessary to protect workers. A worker may also contact the Ministry of Labour with a complaint if their concerns are not resolved at the workplace.
When an incident of workplace violence occurs, the employer should first notify police or emergency responders for immediate assistance. In addition, under the OHSA, an employer has a number of duties if a workplace violence incident results in a person being killed or critically injured [section 51(1)].
An employer must:
If there is an incident of workplace violence and a worker is disabled or requires medical attention, the employer must notify the joint health and safety committee or health and safety representative and the union, if any, within four days of the incident.
This notice must be in writing and must contain any prescribed information [section 52(1)]. If required by an inspector, this notice must also be given to a director of the Ministry of Labour.
Notices are not required for incidents of harassment.
 Regulations under the OHSA prescribe the specific information that must be provided.
 Self-employed people are required to notify a director of the Ministry of Labour, in writing, if they sustain an occupational injury or illness.
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Disclaimer: This web resource has been prepared to assist the workplace parties in understanding some of their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the regulations. It is not intended to replace the OHSA or the regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation.
It is the responsibility of the workplace parties to ensure compliance with the legislation. This web resource does not constitute legal advice. If you require assistance with respect to the interpretation of the legislation and its potential application in specific circumstances, please contact your legal counsel.
While this web resource will also be available to Ministry of Labour inspectors, they will apply and enforce the OHSA and its regulations based on the facts as they may find them in the workplace. This web resource does not affect their enforcement discretion in any way.