February 15, 2010
Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to protect workers against workplace violence was passed on Dec. 9, 2009. It comes into law on June 10, 2010.

Along with workplace violence, the legislation, also known as Bill 168, addresses workplace harassment. It will apply to all Ontario workplaces currently covered by the OHSA.

The new amendments specify:
  • Employers with more than five workers are required to prepare policies on workplace violence and harassment and develop and maintain programs to implement them.
  • Employers must assess the risks of workplace violence based on the nature of the workplace and type or conditions of work, and develop measures and procedures to control them. The employer’s risk assessment is required to take into account circumstances that would be common to similar workplaces and specific to the workplace. Once complete, the employer must advise the joint health and safety committee, health and safety representative, or workers directly (if there is no committee, or representative) of the results of the assessment and provide a copy of the assessment if in writing. Workplaces must be reassessed for risks of workplace violence to ensure that the policy continues to protect workers from workplace violence.
  • A right for workers to refuse work if they believe they are at risk of physical injury due to possible workplace violence.
  • Employers aware of the potential for domestic violence in a workplace are to take reasonable precautions to protect the workers considered at risk of physical injury.
  • Employers and supervisors are to alert certain workers of the risk of workplace violence from persons with a history of violent behaviour. Employers and supervisors must provide workers who may encounter such persons at work with as much information, including personal information, as needed to protect the workers from physical injury.
  • The workplace’s Joint Health and Safety Committee and others must be notified if a worker is disabled, or needs medical attention due to workplace violence.
The most controversial requirements are those related to domestic violence. The OHSA will now require an employer to take ‘every precaution reasonable’ in the circumstances for the protection of a worker if the employer becomes aware, or ‘ought reasonably to be aware,’ that domestic violence that would likely expose a worker to physical injury may occur in the workplace. Ontario will be the only jurisdiction in Canada to have these provisions that specifically require an employer to react to domestic violence. No specific reasonable precautions have been outlined.

Health and safety inspectors for the Ministry of Labour will enforce the new workplace violence and harassment provisions in the OHSA. To access the Ministry of Labour website, go to: www.labor.gov.on.ca/english/hs.