March 15, 2011
By Heidi Croot
Workplace Safety and Prevention Services

When Queen’s Park passed Bill 168 on workplace violence and harassment in 2010, a collective groan rose from landscapers and growers across the province. The timing couldn’t be worse. Besides, as some owners said, “Violence isn’t an issue in my workplace.”

Or is it? After leading a workplace violence assessment at Sheridan Nurseries, Jim MacLeod, human resources manager, gained new insight into the concerns of employees about the potential for violent episodes.

Adam Tyman, operations manager at Clintar — London, believes violence-related risks and hazards are no different in his landscape company than any other workplace. Gerwin Bouman, co-owner of Stam Nurseries, offers examples given by colleagues during Safety Group meetings of how violence at home has followed people to work.

In the meantime, consider this statistic: In the 12 months ending in March of 2009, Ministry of Labour inspectors made 417 field visits and issued 351 orders related to violence in the workplace. Clearly, workplace violence is more prevalent than many employers think, which makes lack of awareness a big threat to employee safety.

“Some employers view safety as an expense until they realize the cost benefits,” says Sally Harvey, Landscape Ontario manager of education, labour development and membership services. “I talk to them about the business case.”

Indeed, criminal charges and financial penalties can put a firm out of business. But as Harvey points out, it’s about much more than that. She notes that a robust health and safety program helps pre-qualify her firm to bid on commercial work.

Simple steps to prevent violence

Jim MacLeod started the process at Sheridan Nurseries by asking the Joint Health and Safety Committees at each location to perform a workplace violence risk assessment. “It brought to light issues we had not considered,” says MacLeod. “You don’t realize until you ask the question what issues are bothering your employees.” MacLeod also emphasizes the need to manage spending time on the floor, listening and watching your guests and staff to see how they behave.

Prepare your staff to quickly recognize violent situations, and respond to and defuse aggressive people and situations. Gerwin Bouman cautions employers to keep the information simple. “Put it in plain language,” he says. “Make it a one-page policy. Don’t do more than what your people can digest. My people say, ‘Tell me what it says and get me out of the office.’”

“Bill 168 caught us in our busy season,” adds MacLeod, “so we put together an information package in language everyone could understand, and gave every employee time on business hours to read it.” The package contained an overview of the amendment, definitions, an action plan, and an acknowledgement form for employees to sign and return to their managers.

Clintar developed a policy and procedure for the new law and distributed it to its franchises. They followed up with training of crew leads, supervisors and management, and addressed the topic in health and safety committee and bi-weekly staff safety meetings. “We also attached a payroll notice to employee pay cheques about their rights and our policies,” says Adam Tyman. “The biggest benefit is that it outlines in writing what is and what is not acceptable behaviour toward co-workers.”

A survival kit to use today

Landscape Ontario is working with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services on several initiatives designed to help landscapers and growers easily and quickly to identify workplace violence and harassment solutions. There is a toolkit available on the Ministry of Labour website.

Given the reality of small business needs, here’s a survival kit that will help small business remain true to their nature, while meeting the legal and moral obligations.
  1. Understanding your role
    Provide strong, visible leadership from the top. Successful business owners, supervisors and executives know that health and wellness in workplaces fosters productivity, quality and profitability. They make sure everyone in the organization understands their role, rights and obligations, and they lead by example.
  2. You’re on the radar, no matter your business size
    Some small business owners believe they fly under the radar, because Ministry of Labour inspectors have bigger fish to fry. The truth is that the ministry has more boots on the ground than ever, and inspectors are specifically focused on small business. No matter how small, you are held accountable for keeping employees safe by meeting legislative requirements.
  3. Make a difference with quick, bite-sized hits
    Be true to what you are. As a small business, it makes sense to keep your health and safety processes simple and informal. Management walkabouts, quick staff meetings, a handwritten memo to file, notes in a log book are strategies that count when inspectors ask if you’ve been meeting your legal obligations. Effective shortcuts for communicating with staff include:
    • Five-minute huddles or quick talks on health and safety.
    • Use your safe operating procedures, checklists or MSDS sheets as topic guides.
    • Make health and safety part of everyday practice.
    • Perform regular safety checks, such as watching an employee work for two minutes. Reinforce what was done well and coach on improvements.
    • Send staff on hazard hunts.
    • Ask a staff member to volunteer as a health and safety champion.
  4. Join a Safety Group
    Joining a Safety Group can reduce your premiums, while it helps make your business safer. A Safety Group puts owners on the same page.
  5. Make health and safety part of your everyday operations
    Give prevention equal status with other topics. Integrate health and safety strategies seamlessly into meeting agendas, job descriptions, budget planning, team meetings, pre-shift checklists, award programs, hiring processes and training.
  6. Tap the wisdom of your staff
    Ask staff in what situations they feel most at risk, and a powerful question: “What do you think will help?” Staff likely know the answer, but might not share it unless you ask.

Don’t walk this road alone

If you’re struggling with a particular health and safety issue, such as violence and harassment, chances are someone else has, too. Unlike marketing strategies, solutions that prevent injuries and save lives need to be shared freely. Think of Landscape Ontario and WSPS as idea brokers. We can put you in touch with best practices, research, or ideas from other firms. Don’t walk this road alone.
Heidi Croot is a writer with Workplace Safety and Prevention Services. WSPS provides health and safety products, training and consulting to Ontario’s agricultural, manufacturing and service sectors.